In a world still grappling with science and scepticism, Richard Mills has written a brand-new work about the man who got the ball rolling. Clive Paget talks to the composer about Galileo, an opera for our volatile times.

Richard Mills. Photo © Charlie Kinross

Galileo. The name is so familiar we are in danger of forgetting the sheer breadth of the man’s talents. For some, he’s the father of modern science; the discoverer of sunspots, lunar craters and the moons of Jupiter. A dazzling polymath who theorised about fine art and music, interrogated gravity, improved the telescope and invented an early thermometer. 

For others, he represents the struggle of conscience in the face of oppression. That, at least, is how he comes across in Brecht’s Life of Galileo, originally written in 1938 but better...