My new chamber opera Biographicahas been part of my life for a long time – almost two decades in fact; but it’s not as if I’ve been working on it constantly. I like having a large-scale piece in the background while I’m working on other projects. This enables me to compose different works, drawing on the same research.

Being fascinated by ancient history and mythology, I’d long been playing with the idea of an opera based on the concept of the Ancient Greek practice of palaestra, or wrestling, which can also be a wrestling of thoughts and ideas. What I needed was a story on which to hang the idea.

The question was, what were we going to see on stage? In the library one day, I came across a book about Gerolamo Cardano, an eccentric Renaissance genius who wrote the first texts on the mathematics of gambling and cheating. He was also a world-renowned surgeon and a pioneer of sign language. He revolutionised complex numbers and, having lived in a time where the line between science and mysticism was frequently blurred, drew upon both to seek an understanding to life and immortality. Cardano’s life provided a vehicle for a...

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