fri 19/09/2014

Imago, Glyndebourne Opera | Opera reviews, news & interviews

Imago, Glyndebourne Opera

A densely dramatic new community opera from Orlando Gough

Imago: 'a visual masterpiece'Credit: Robert Workman

Imago, Glyndebourne’s latest Community Opera exercise, putting the cap on 25 years of pioneering educational outreach, is one of those operas where you need to read the programme synopsis first. 

Or maybe not. Its complications are outweighed by the fabulous impact it makes. The triple-level-set (shades of Birtwistle’s The Last Supper and other bumper enterprises at Glyndebourne) is arresting, and brilliantly capitalised on; the projection visuals - cyberspace gone crazy - are stunning; the choreography is refined, and astonishing for a community effort. You may come out with your head reeling, or banging, for a number of reasons, but the overall impact is undeniably superb.

Composer Orlando Gough, a minimalist (at least here) who understands that the genre means variation and diversity, not repetition, has been paired by Glyndebourne (whose last Community Opera was Julian Philips’s and Nicky Singer’s considerable hit Knight Crew, in 2010) with a team that delivers pure magic.

This is a very busy, and buzzy, opera

Librettist Stephen Plaice (a Birtwistle collaborator, as it happens), designers Ed Devlin and Bronia Housman, director (and former Cherubino) Susannah Waters, who make their designs mean something and the story add up to a lot (she even helped Richard Jones to make Weber’s Euryanthe take off at Glyndebourne) are the other brains behind this show. And video designer Finn Ross, whose credits for dazzling theatre projects are a mile long (ENO’s The Death of Klinghoffer; the RNT’s just-launched Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Théâtre de Complicité’s The Master and Margarita at the Barbican), gives the show such explosive thrust that, if you can’t make head or tail of what happens in Part I, or feel like blocking your ears from the shattering saxophonic onslaught, what the hell.

The truth is that Imago is fascinating whether you can catch the words or not. Like Glyndebourne’s hip-hop opera, it’s a bit eager to trade on what’s in and cool. Gizmos are all the rage, and a thoughtful medic (occupational therapist actually, the wonderful Daniel Norman, who couldn’t give a bad performance in anything if he tried), comes up with the idea of technology making it possible for old and ill people to reconnect with their own actual, or imagined, past. 

In short, they can become as if young again. Cue miraculous neon facemasks, tendril cyber connections that look like a fervid human brain, eye-dazzling backdrop effects not recommended for those unkeen on flash photography, and a sort of electrification of the entire cast. This is a very busy, and buzzy, opera.

The delight, rather than the surprise, is that it comes off so well. It’s true that Gough scores when he’s a bit less frenetic. One wedding scene with a restrainedly wacky black preacher (George Ikediashi - terrific) and a yearning acappella chorus confirms how notably and memorably his mainly tonal patter impacts when it’s not scampering (not to say that his scherzo passages aren’t pretty knockout).

The heroes in this scorching performance were the orchestra

rating

5

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