Tom Service speaks to Raymond Yiu about his new opera The Original Chinese Conjuror, based on the true story of Chung Ling Soo - whose dramatic death onstage at the Wood Green Empire led to his unmasking as William Robinson.
For the 350th anniversary of the birth of the French composer and bass viol virtuoso Marin Marais, viol player Hille Perl and French baroque expert Philip Weller uncover his life and work. Plus, Tom meets identical twins who knew since their teens that they both wanted to be cutting-edge opera directors - Christopher and David Alden, currently staging Janacek and Handel at ENO.
In This Programme
The Original Chinese Conjuror
This years Aldeburgh Festival will see the première of Raymond Yiu's opera The Original Chinese Conjuror. It will be staged in an old music hall on Southwold Pier. It's an appropriate venue for this tale of subterfuge, cabaret, and magic: Chung Ling Soo was a big name in the music halls of London until he died on stage in 1918, when he was shot when one of his tricks went wrong. And then his secret was out - he wasn't really Chinese at all, but a white American called William Robinson. Tom went along to rehearsals to find out how Raymond has set this tale of magical deception to music.
The Original Chinese Conjuror premières at the Aldeburgh Festival on the 15 th June (returns only) and will have performances in London 's Almeida Theatre on the 1 st , 2 nd and 7 th of July.
Christopher and David Alden
For twins Christopher and David Alden, opera directing runs in the family: they're both responsible for changing the way opera has been staged on both sides of the Atlantic over the last three decades. They work separately, but were in London together recently when the niceties of their schedules brought them together at English National Opera : David was reviving his famous staging of Handel's Ariodante and Christopher was putting on a new production of Janacek's Makropoulos Case.
You can hear Ariodante live on BBC Radio 3 on 24th June from 6.30pm
The French composer Marin Marais was born 350 years ago and flourished under the Sun King, Louis XIV. He ought to be famous for the over 600 pieces he wrote for the bass viol or viola da gamba, a unique musical treasure trove - but instead he's more familiar as the composer played by Gérard Depardieu in the film Tous les matins du monde. Tom looks at the importance of Marais's music in the company of viol player Hille Perl and French music expert Philip Weller.
Althought Varèse only wrote a dozen pieces, he is a totemic figure in 20 th century music and his influence is still going strong in the 21 st . A huge new tome on the man and his music has been published to accompany a major Varèse exhibition in Switzerland and Tom is joined by sound designer Ian Dearden and composer Tansy Davies to talk about the continuing reverberations of Varèse's life and work.
Edgar Varèse: Composer, Sound Sculptor, Visionary is published by Boydell and Brewer at £25 hardback. ISBN 1843832119
The exhibition at the Museum Tinguely in Basel runs until 27 th August