Following the overwhelming success of Misperin 1997, Glyndebourne was keen to build on the enthusiasm generated and commission another work from composer John Lunn and librettist Stephen Plaice for young people to both attend and perform in. Both John and Stephen led workshops in Brighton and Hove schools and colleges to involve young people in the creative process and the all-important storyline. Zoëwas aimed at 12 – 18 year-olds, a slightly older age group than Misper.
Rehearsals began in January 2000 and culminated in five performances at Glyndebourne between 1 – 4 March 2000 with the Brighton Youth Orchestra. Zoë was very successful with critics and audiences who praised the ‘darkling-chromatic, noir-ish’ sound (the Financial Times) and its cast of ‘stars’ (The Independent). “If I see another opera as enthralling as Zoë this year,” summed up Richard Morrison in the Times, “I shall count myself very lucky. “In December 2000 Channel 4 produced and broadcast Zoë. The broadcast was a hit, capturing the imagination of all ages.
Former film star Sophie Lavalle asks private detective Casey Flood to help her find the daughter she had adopted eighteen years before. Her only clues are photographs she receives once a year of a girl growing up, each one marked ‘Her birthday’. The girl looks exactly like her. Playing the role of a talent spotter for a record label, he discovers Zoë Herkomer – the spitting image of her mother – in a sixth-form college at Adambridge, where fellow students Luke and Felix have become obsessed with her, as has her film studies teacher, Mr Traherne.
Felix invites her to sing with his band, the Mains, and Zoë’s tryout is successful. Afterwards, Luke walks Zoë home. Her father’s business is genetic engineering: her mother died when she was born. Flood and Sophie Lavalle turn up at Zoë’s home to discover the truth. Dr Herkomer turns out to be a former obsessive fan of Sophie’s, to whom she once gave a lock of her hair. From this, he explains, he cloned Zoë. Suddenly, Zoë turns up.
Two years later, Zoë is living with Mr Traherne. On the TV news she recognises Luke, now an eco-warrior demonstrating against Herkomer’s activities. She joins him in a raid on her father’s business in which Herkomer is accidentally killed. Zoë is tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Five years later, Luke – just released himself – visits her in Holloway Prison. The effects of cloning have aged Zoë alarmingly and the two decide to poison themselves. Back in Casey Flood’s office, some time after Zoë’s funeral, a young girl comes in called Emilia Smith. She is the replica of Zoë, and she wants him to find her mother…
In the past, although opera may have been written about teenager ity has not been written specifically for them. In doing so with Zoë, we have aimed to achieve something of the pace to satisfy a habitually TV-watching and film-going rather than a conventional opera-going audience. This is not pandering to the hoary myth that teenagers only have a fifteen-second attention span. It is rather to see what happens to opera (and indeed to the opera-house) when it is subject to the same demands of pace that are now commonplace in TV and film.
Both of these mediums were previously much more static. Over time they have speeded up to produce more excitement and better, more sophisticated storytelling. Could contemporary opera benefit from a degree of the same acceleration without destroying its vocal and orchestral integrity? A teenage opera is a rare opportunity to find out.
'...performing in Zoë in in the main house was amazing and being treated in a professional, non-condescending manner was really important and probably one of the things which I most appreciated.'
- Cassie Emmott, GYO participant
Casey Flood - Geoffrey Dolton Sophie Lavalle - Fiona Campbell Felix - Daniel Gill JoJo - Gemma Ticehurst Gemma - Rebecca Bowden Luke - Mark Enticknap Zoë - Emily Gilchrist Mr Trahene/Judge - Richard Coxon Dr Herkomer - Jonathan Viera
Composer - John Lunn Librettist - Stephen Plaice Conductor - James Morgan/Tecwyn Evans Director - Stephen Langridge Choreographer - Vanessa Gray Assistant Director - Michael Kennerley