Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Tannhauser was, if all went to plan, performed by the Metropolitan Opera last night, at the Academy for Performing Arts, in Wan Chai. The self-taught 19th-century German composer was born into a performing family – several of his sisters became opera singers and actresses. A vehement anti-Semite, Wagner is one of the most controversial figures in the history of classical music. The Ku Klux Klan-glorifying 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation, featured music from one of Wagner’s operas, Ride of the Valkyries. Soon after the film’s release, a screening was held at the White House, for Woodrow Wilson …

As its 28th president, Wilson is best known for leading the United States during the first world war, for championing his idealistic Fourteen Points during the post-war peace negotiations and for trying to start the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. But he is also remembered as being a racist: he re-segregated the federal workforce and believed that black Americans did not deserve full citizenship. In 1948, Princeton University honoured him by creating the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a graduate of which is Chinese banker Li Ruogu …

When Li took over as chairman of the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China, in 2005, the institution was going through a major expansion. Two years into his new role, Exim Bank became the world’s largest export credit agency. Known for being outspoken, in 2004 Li accused the US of China-bashing. Last February, Li retired, but not before having held a high-profile meeting and signing multiple loans with visiting Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa …

Correa did not have the easiest of childhoods. His father once agreed to smuggle drugs on a US-bound flight, only to be arrested and sentenced to several years in jail. Nevertheless, Correa attended a prestigious high school and, after graduating, spent a year doing voluntary work with the indigenous Quechua-speaking people. He went on to get a master’s degree in economics at Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain, where he met his wife, and then a PhD at the University of Illinois, an establishment that employs Vicki Mahaffey …

As a professor of both English and gender and women’s studies, Mahaffey is immersed in such diverse subjects as modernist and Irish literature, fairy tales and gender formation, literary authority and the Holocaust – and, for good measure, the works of authors such as Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Homer, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and W.B. Yeats. She is currently researching how the concept of femininity is constructed across time and nationality by comparing versions of the same fairy tale. Mahaffey is recognised as one of the world’s leading scholars on the works of James Joyce …

To say that the Irish novelist and poet revolutionised 20th-century fiction would not be an overstatement. Born near Dublin in 1882, he was the oldest of the 10 children in his family to survive infancy. James was a brilliant student and taught himself basic Norwegian so that he might read A Doll’s House, written by his literary hero, Henrik Ibsen, in its original form. Joyce was also fascinated by the combination of music and myth, and he tried to imitate musical expression in his own work, inspired in the endeavour by Richard Wagner.