Aria Code

By WQXR & The Metropolitan Opera

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Subscribers: 979
Reviews: 6

Peter
 May 29, 2021
Outstanding podcast. As scintillating as it is informative...and the music is sublime.

Greg
 Feb 20, 2021
This is a great podcast, beautiful and educational. I can't wait for it to teturn.

david
 Apr 1, 2020
wonderful, opens up the music and story

pat
 Nov 7, 2019
A wonderful podcast about wonderful art, music and artists. Never thought I'd enjoy opera.


 Jun 18, 2019

Description

Aria Code is a podcast that pulls back the curtain on some of the most famous arias in opera history, with insight from the biggest voices of our time, including Roberto Alagna, Diana Damrau, Sondra Radvanovsky, and many others. Hosted by Grammy Award-winner and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Rhiannon Giddens, Aria Code is produced in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera. Each episode dives into one aria — a feature for a single singer — and explores how and why these brief musical moments have imprinted themselves in our collective consciousness and what it takes to stand on the Met stage and sing them. A wealth of guests—from artists like Rufus Wainwright and Ruben Santiago-Hudson to non-musicians like Dame Judi Dench and Dr. Brooke Magnanti, author of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl—join Rhiannon and the Met Opera’s singers to understand why these arias touch us at such a human level, well over a century after they were written. Each episode ends with the aria, uninterrupted and in full, recorded from the Met Opera stage. Aria Code is produced in partnership with WQXR, The Metropolitan Opera and WNYC Studios.

Episode Date
Blanchard's Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Boy of Peculiar Grace
42:30

This week we’re decoding with the man who wrote the code - Terence Blanchard, composer of Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Not only is it the work that reopened the Met after its 18-month pandemic shutdown, but it’s also the first opera by a Black composer ever to be performed there. Based on the 2014 memoir of the same name by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a coming-of-age story about his childhood in a tiny town in northwest Louisiana. 

From a young age, Charles knew he was different, not like his brothers or the other boys. After being sexually assaulted by his older cousin, he was consumed by shame, and especially when he began to feel attraction toward boys as well as girls. The South was not the place to be questioning one’s sexual identity as a Black man in the 1970s and 80s. But in the aria “Peculiar Grace,” he puts his questions aside and looks forward to a brighter future. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the experience of feeling like an outsider, and the life-changing path toward self-acceptance.

Composer Terence Blanchard is a multiple Grammy-winning composer and jazz trumpeter. Fire Shut Up In My Bones is his second opera, and it premiered at Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 2019. He has scored countless films, and is known for his many collaborations with the film director Spike Lee, including most recently Da 5 Bloods and BlacKkKlansman. Each was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. He credits his father for his love of opera, and he has a particular fondness for Puccini’s La bohème.

Baritone Will Liverman is singing the role of Charles in the Met’s production of Fire Shut Up In My Bones. While he was sitting on his couch during the pandemic, wondering if he’d ever get to sing in front of an audience again, he was invited to send an audition tape and landed the role just a few days later. Will has collaborated with D.J. and artist K-Rico to create The Factotum, a contemporary  adaptation of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He is an alumnus of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Dr. E. Patrick Johnson is an artist, writer, and professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern, where he is also the Dean of the School of Communication. He is the author and editor of several award-winning books, including Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. His research for the book included dozens of interviews with men who were born, raised, and still live in the South, and he later adapted it into a staged-reading, Pouring Tea, as well as a full-length play and a documentary. He has received multiple awards both for his scholarship and his stage work.

Oct 13, 2021
October 8: Free Virtual Event with Terence Blanchard

LIVESTREAM EVENT: Friday, October 8 at 12 noon ET

This fall, Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones became the first opera by a Black composer staged at the Metropolitan Opera. In this very special online talk, Aria Code host Rhiannon Giddens will talk with Terence about this historic premiere, his writing process and the unique challenges of staging an opera in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Watch the FREE event on Friday, October 8, at 12PM ET:

 

Oct 08, 2021
Verdi's Nabucco: By the Rivers of Babylon
44:01

Psalm 137 depicts the ancient Hebrews, enslaved and weeping “by the rivers of Babylon,” as they remember their homeland, Jerusalem. Those words have inspired songwriters of reggae, Broadway, disco, folk and more, but one of the most memorable versions is featured in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco.

The opera retells the story of the Babylonian captivity when Nebuchadnezzar (or Nabucco, in Italian) seizes Jerusalem, destroys the temple, and enslaves the Israelites in his kingdom. At the heart of the opera is “Va, pensiero,” also known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, in which the Israelites yearn for their lost home. 

It’s this yearning for home by those exiled from their homeland, and of refugees trying to build a new identity in a new land, that has helped make Verdi’s first big hit resonate far beyond the opera house since its premiere. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the experience of refugees and immigrants, the significance of memory and community, and the power of 100 voices joined in song.

Donald Palumbo has been the chorus master at the Met Opera for 15 years. He can remember almost every time he has ever performed “Va, pensiero,” and usually ends up standing in the wings just to listen to it. He previously was the chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and has taught at Juilliard since 2016. 

Professor Mark Burford is a musicologist at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He specializes in 19th-century Austro-German music, and twentieth century African American music, and is the author of the award-winning book Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field.  He previously taught at the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, Columbia University, and City College of New York.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is the Scholar in Residence at the National Council of Jewish Women. She writes books about the messy business of trying to be a person in the world, and about how spirituality can transform that work. She is the author of seven books, including Nurture the Wow and Surprised by God. She’s been named one of the top 50 most influential women rabbis.

Roya Hakakian is an Iranian Jewish writer and the author of two volumes of poetry in Persian. Her family was exiled from Iran following the 1979 revolution, after which they lived as refugees in Europe for a year before immigrating to the United States. Her most recent book is A Beginner’s Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious

Sep 29, 2021
Once More Into the Breeches: Joyce DiDonato Sings Strauss
32:25

The young Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is one of opera’s great trouser roles -- a female singer playing the part of a young man.  He is set to premiere his new opera at the home of the richest man in Vienna, only to learn moments before the performance that a bawdy comedy troupe will be performing at the same time. 

As his plans collapse around him, the Composer falls in love with Zerbinetta, the leader of the commedia dell'arte troupe, and his whole world changes in a flash. In his aria “Sein wir wieder gut,” he sings about how he now sees everything with new eyes. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the transformational power of love, music and putting on a pair of pants.

The Guests

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is a multi Grammy Award-winner and a fierce advocate for the arts. She’s also kind of a hero, bringing her talents to classrooms, prisons, and refugee camps, and sharing the transformative power of music. She loves playing trouser roles, and finds singing the Composer in particular to be an experience of discovery and total joy. 

Writer Paul Thomason is a die-hard Strauss fan and is writing a book about the composer. He sees Strauss as the great humanist among composers, because he presents his characters exactly as they are. He studied conducting and worked with maestros Thomas Schippers and Peter Maag. He has also appeared on the Met Opera’s intermission quizzes during their Saturday broadcasts.

Mo B. Dick is a founding father of the drag king movement. He started performing in drag in 1995 and founded Club Cassanova, the first weekly party dedicated to drag kings, and has made appearances in movies and television. He is also one of the cofounders of the website dragkinghistory.com, which archives the history of drag kings and crossdressers dating all the way back to the Tang dynasty.

Sep 15, 2021
Breaking Mad: Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor
64:03

People who go to see Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor spend the entire evening waiting for the famous Mad Scene, to hear the soprano’s incredible acrobatics, and to feel her intense emotional changes over the course of the lengthy showstopper. But the Mad Scene is more than a vocal showpiece: it’s a window into what it means to lose touch with reality and the ways women’s real-life challenges can go ignored or, even worse, pathologized as illness.

In the opera, Lucia has no control of her life; her brother betrays her and forces her to marry a man she doesn’t love. Alone and out of options, Lucia escapes in the only way she can: she murders her new husband and descends into madness. But how do we understand her crimes and hallucinations? And what can Lucia teach us about how we diagnose and treat mental health conditions today? Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests dive into the history of women and madness, as well as the story of a woman living with bipolar disorder today.

Soprano Natalie Dessay had a thriving career as a coloratura soprano before cashing in her opera chips and turning her talents to theater and jazz. When she sang the role of Lucia at the Met in 2011, she approached it a bit like a circus performer, adding physical challenges to match the vocal ones.

Dr. Mary Ann Smart is a professor of music at UC Berkeley. As a grad student, she wrote her dissertation on mad scenes in 19th century opera, and she has since authored multiple books, including Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera. One of the things that she finds most poignant about Lucia’s Mad Scene is the fact that Donizetti spent the end of his life being treated for physical and mental illness. 

Activist and writer Dr. Phyllis Chesler has written more than 20 books, including the seminal work, Women and Madness. Her work deals with freedom of speech and freedom of thought. Her recent books include Requiem for a Female Serial Killer, and her memoir An American Bride in Kabul. She believes writing is most definitely a form of madness.

Author and attorney Melody Moezzi wrote Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life in order to capture her experiences as an Iranian-American Muslim woman with bipolar disorder, and to help others with this condition feel less alone. She is an advocate for destigmatizing mental health conditions, and she believes that sometimes, what looks like madness can actually be a rational response to an irrational world.

Aug 25, 2021
Crisis in the Kremlin: Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov
33:43

Perhaps no opera better reflects the questions and contradictions at the heart of Russian history than Modest Mussorgsky’s historical epic Boris Godunov. Based on the play by Alexander Pushkin (considered by many to be one of Russia’s greatest writers), it’s a meditation on power and legitimacy, and a portrayal of a pivotal period in Russian history -- The Time of Troubles. 

When Tsar Ivan the Terrible dies without an heir, Boris Godunov is elected tsar, casting doubt on his legitimacy. He rules well for a few years, but then all hell breaks loose, with a famine, a revolt, and a pretender claiming to be the real tsar.

As his country’s problems compound, Boris confronts his feelings of powerlessness in the monologue, “Dostig ja vïsshei vlasti.” Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the nature of power, the question of legitimacy, and how an opera can shine a light on a nation’s past as well as its present.

The Guests

Bass René Pape (A.K.A. “The Black Diamond Bass”) has been singing the role of Boris Godunov for 15 years. Like many of the kings and rulers he’s played on stage, he sees Boris as someone who has all of the power but none of the joy. In addition to his velvety voice, Pape is also known for his collection of rubber ducks, and even has one in his own image, the PapeDuck.

Dr. Simon Morrison is a professor of music history at Princeton, specializing in Russian and Soviet music. He fell in love with Russian music when he was an undergraduate and wrote his dissertation on the life and work of Sergei Prokofiev. His most recent book is Bolshoi Confidential, a history of the Bolshoi Ballet, and he is currently writing a book on the history of the city of Moscow, which finds him studying 11th century documents written on birchbark.

Dr. Shoshana Keller is a professor of Russian, Soviet, Eurasian, and modern Middle Eastern history at Hamilton College. She first became interested in Russia after getting to know the music of Shostakovich and Stravinsky while playing French horn as a kid, and she was fascinated by pictures of Russian onion domes in a social studies class. She loved the Russian language too, but found the grammar devilishly difficult and immersed herself in its history. She has written multiple books, and is working on an experimental mapping project of the nations in Kazakhstan

Aug 11, 2021
Only the Good Die Young: Verdi's La Traviata
37:26

One of opera’s great heroines is based on one of history’s extraordinary women. The 19th century French courtesan Marie Duplessis was elegant, successful, famous, and gone before her time, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 23. One of her lovers, Alexandre Dumas fils, was so inspired by her that he wrote a novel and a play about her life called The Lady of the Camellias, which in turn inspired Giuseppe Verdi to compose La Traviata.

Verdi immortalized Marie Duplessis in the character of Violetta Valéry, giving us a woman both at the height of her vitality and success, and on her deathbed. Alone, and having loved and lost a man named Alfredo, she sings “Addio del passato.” This aria is a farewell to the past and a plea to God for forgiveness. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the brief, vibrant life of Marie Duplessis and how Verdi captured her plaintive farewell in music.

As a child, soprano Lisette Oropesa saw her mother perform the role of Violetta on stage and was heartbroken by the end! Still, she found the courage to eventually take on this great heroine herself. Lisette has enjoyed learning about the strength, smarts, and tenacity of the real-life Marie Duplessis. 

Writer Fred Plotkin is the author of Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera. He has worked in opera since 1972, doing everything but singing, and has written six books on Italian cuisine. Verdi is his hero because he represents all the greatness an artist can achieve both artistically and as a human being.

Writer and journalist Liesl Schillinger translated Alexandre Dumas fils’ novel, La Dame aux Camélias, and discovered in Marie Duplessis an extraordinary, generous, and shockingly modern woman. In Dumas fils, she discovered a man who was critical of the constraints and double-standards that constrained women during the 1800s. 

Actor and director John Turturro is known for his roles in over 60 feature films, but perhaps less well-known as a Verdi fan. He sometimes includes operatic music in his films, and he’s even tried his hand at directing Verdi’s Rigoletto. Growing up, he remembers fondly how his dad and uncles would gather around a record player to compare and critique different singers’ performances of a single aria.

Jul 21, 2021
Guys and Dolls: Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann
40:02

What makes us human? As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, technology is becoming even more integrated into the fabric of daily life, and better able to simulate real human interactions. But what really separates humans from machines is our ability to love, to dream, and to believe in an illusion. 

In Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, the poet Hoffmann thinks he’s finally found love, and he’s so head-over-heels that he doesn’t realize something’s off -- Olympia, the woman of his dreams, isn’t a woman at all. She’s a wind-up doll. But like all of us humans, he can’t help but view his beloved through rose-colored glasses. 

In “Les oiseaux dans la charmille,” Olympia sings one of the great arias for a coloratura soprano, and it’s music that’s so difficult it seems like only a machine could sing it. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests find the human angle to this doll’s song, exploring the pitfalls and illusions of love in the time of A.I. 

Soprano Erin Morley started singing “Les oiseaux dans la charmille” in her very first voice lesson at the Eastman School of Music. Since then, she’s been searching for just the right balance of human and robot as she sings up into the stratosphere. 

Conductor Johannes Debus is the music director for the Canadian Opera Company. He loves the kaleidoscopic range of styles in The Tales of Hoffmann, and how Offenbach seems to explore all aspects of humanity with great sympathy.

Machine-learning research Caroline Sinders looks at technology and society through the lens of design and human rights. She is currently a researcher at the Berggruen Institute, and an artist in residence at Ars Electronica, and previously was a design researcher at IBM Watson.

Dr. Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. He established the first-ever annual Turing Test and is a pro at distinguishing artificial intelligence from human intelligence. But even he is susceptible to wearing rose-colored glasses -- just like Hoffmann, and just like the rest of us. 

Jul 07, 2021
Strauss's Elektra: Waltzing With a Vengeance
43:29

Note: This episode includes descriptions of childhood sexual assault.

The drive for revenge can be all-consuming, especially when you or someone you love has been wronged. Outcast and distraught, the title character in Richard Strauss’s Elektra is obsessed with avenging the murder of her father. And because the story is based on a Greek myth, and Greek myths are full of dysfunctional families, this means that Elektra is hellbent on killing her own mother.

We get our first taste of the darkness inside Elektra’s mind, and the trauma at the heart of her rage, in the monologue, “Allein! Weh, ganz allein.” It's a sort of primal scream accompanied by a huge orchestra, and Elektra plans her revenge in all its gory, graphic glory. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the depths of trauma and the heights of vengeance, both for Elektra and for a man whose own drive for revenge brought him to those very same extremes of elation and despair.

The Guests:

Soprano Nina Stemme thinks there’s some truth to the story that Strauss once told an orchestra to play so loudly that they would drown out the soprano singing Elektra, and she should know -- she’s one of today’s leading interpreters of the role! She invested a lot of herself in shaping this character, and it's one that takes all of her physical and emotional energy to perform.

William Berger is an author and radio commentator. Equal parts opera buff and metalhead, he brings his love of intense storytelling to his work at The Metropolitan Opera, and to his exploration of Elektra. While it's a story of violence and revenge, Berger thinks the real journey is the one of psychological discovery and deep Freudian conflicts bubbling to the surface. 

David Holthouse is a writer and documentary filmmaker who spent three years of his life consumed by the desire for revenge. He meticulously plotted to murder the man who raped him when he was seven years old. He tells his story of childhood sexual assault in his first-person essay “Stalking the Bogeyman,” and follows up on his story in “Outing the Bogeyman.”

Jun 23, 2021
Puccini's Tosca: Death is But a Dream
27:34

It’s not easy to talk about death. We associate dying with so much suffering and loss. But for many people, the end of life is full of peaceful remembrance of the moments and relationships that have meant the most. For the leading man in Puccini’s Tosca, that’s the sweetness and beauty of his beloved. 

Caught up in the messy politics of his time, Mario Cavaradossi has been arrested, interrogated, and tortured. And then, he’s sentenced to death. “E lucevan le stelle” finds Cavaradossi in his prison cell one hour before his execution. He knows his life is over, and what does he do? He gets lost in a daydream about a passionate night spent with Tosca. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the memories and dreams that give us meaning at the end of our lives.

Joseph Calleja, A.K.A. The Maltese Tenor, sees a lot of himself in Cavaradossi - they’re both men of intensity and passion. He says that if the spectrum of human emotion were a harp, Puccini knew exactly the right string to pluck at just the right moment to convey the emotion the character is feeling.

Carolyn Abbate teaches music at Harvard University and writes about opera, including the book A History of Opera. One of the memories that she holds most dear is of an afternoon spent in a meadow with her son when he was young.

Dr. Christopher Kerr is the CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Buffalo Hospice and Palliative Care. Chris recently wrote a book called Death is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at LIfe’s End, about the dreams and visions that many people experience at the end of their lives. This work was later turned into a film, which became the basis of a Netflix production and a PBS World documentary.  

Jun 09, 2021
Handel's Agrippina: Nice Romans Finish Last
37:24

In order to be a Roman Emperor, you had to be entirely cold-blooded. It was a violent world of infighting, ruthless slander, and take-no-prisoners politics -- a world where rulers would kill a million people and enslave a million more just to flex their power. This was the Game of Thrones setting that George Frideric Handel chose for Agrippina. The opera's name comes from Empress Agrippina the Younger, a woman of ambition and influence, and this episode focuses on someone who inadvertently stands in her way: the hapless Ottone. He doesn’t realize that becoming the heir to the throne has put a target on his back, and that Agrippina is aiming to take him down. Eventually she turns everyone against Ottone, leaving him in total despair. 

Having lost his friends, his future, and the love of his life, Ottone asks “Why me?” in the aria “Voi che udite il mio lamento.” Host Rhiannon Giddens and three guests take you on a tour of the cutthroat politics of ancient Rome, a world of murder and mayhem that still has something to teach us today. 

Countertenor Iestyn Davies likes singing the role of Ottone because as the only honest character in the opera, he’s an audience favorite. This was the last role he sang at the Met right before the lockdown, and he knows that his future performances will be deepened by his experience of the pandemic. 

Handel expert Dr. Alison DeSimone is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where she teaches courses in music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. She loves how Handel gets to the emotional depths of all of his characters, making them feel like real people. She recently published a book called The Power of Pastiche about music and culture in 18th-century England.

Historian Dr. Emma Southon is a recovering academic, writer, podcast host, and scholar of the ancient world. She's amused that ancient Romans are presented as paragons of civilization and culture even though their murder and mudslinging is anything but civilized. She wrote her first book, a biography of Agrippina, because she felt the Empress deserved her own book and no one else was stepping up to write it.

May 19, 2021
Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress: I Walk the Line
46:08

Almost three hundred years ago, the English artist William Hogarth created a series of paintings called A Rake’s Progress, which tell the tragic story of a man whose life spirals out of control after inheriting an unexpected fortune. He leaves behind a fiancée, and it is her story of devotion that reverberates through Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress and the aria “No Word from Tom.” 

In this episode, you’ll visit with Hogarth’s paintings, hear how Stravinsky captured the undying loyalty of the forgotten lover and get an inside look at how unexpected fortune and fame upended the family of Vivian Liberto and Johnny Cash. Yes, that Johnny Cash. And, yes, in this podcast about Igor Stravinsky. 

And here’s the best part: the incomparable Dawn Upshaw will sing it for you from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

The Guests:

Soprano Dawn Upshaw has performed The Rake’s Progress many times and says that some of her happiest moments on an opera stage were when she was singing the role of the devoted fiancée, Anne Trulove.

Tara Cash is the youngest daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian Liberto. When she was growing up, everyone always wanted to hear about her father’s life. Now, she welcomes the opportunity to share her mother’s side of the story.  

Joanna Tinworth is Curator (Collections) at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, where the original paintings, A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth, have resided for over 200 years. Hogarth’s paintings are among the museum’s most popular exhibits.

Michael Bragg is the Music Planning Associate and Librarian at San Francisco Opera. He gives lectures and talks about opera around the Bay area, and he loves Stravinsky because of the composer’s unique approach to blending old and new styles of music. 

Below is the first painting in Hogarth's series A Rake's Progress, entitled "The Heir." You can see the complete set of paintings here, courtesy of Sir John Soane's Museum.

 

May 05, 2021
Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro: Count On a Reckoning
37:16

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: a powerful man abuses his privilege and wealth to exploit the women in his life. When confronted with the fact that they’re not his playthings, he throws a fit and blames everyone but himself. Sound like your daily news alert? It’s Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, but somehow the world of feudal Spain in the 1700s is still distressingly familiar today. 

The aria “Hai già vinta la causa” traces the emotions of the aristocratic and imperious Count Almaviva when he realizes that his wife and servants have been plotting his comeuppance. Filled with rage that they won’t bend to his will, the Count offers up one of the great temper tantrums in opera history. And don’t be surprised if the Count’s anger gives you flashbacks to headline news from the very recent past.

The Guests:

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley spent the first decade of his career playing the wily factotum Figaro, and now he sings the controlling Count Almaviva in opera houses around the world. He loves throwing himself into the fire and fury in this aria, but also holds tight to the belief that the Count is truly repentant in the end.

Professor Sharon Marcus teaches English and comparative literature at Columbia University. When it came to music, her mother insisted that she grow up listening to classical. She first met the Count in The Marriage of Figaro when she was still in grade school.

Laura Bassett is a freelance journalist and an opinion columnist for MSNBC. She originally wanted to be an academic. but the 2008 presidential election convinced her that she needed to be writing stories about the national conversations we're having today. She's written extensively about abuses of power in politics and the instances of sexual harassment that have dominated headlines in recent years.

Apr 21, 2021
Rossini's Barber of Seville: On a Wig and a Prayer
40:48

Chances are, you know the overture to The Barber of Seville (maybe from Bugs Bunny?!) but Gioachino Rossini’s most famous opera is more than a comedic romp. Embedded in the topsy-turvy tale of young love and silly disguises, there is a story of forced marriage and a woman’s determination to live a life of her choosing. 

We meet the heroine Rosina for the first time in the aria “Una voce poco fa,” in which she declares that while she may seem sweet and innocent, she is really not someone to be messed with. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the courage it takes to live life on your own terms and the way this almost absurd story pulled from a centuries-old novel still resonates today. You’ll hear how one guest has her own escape-from-a-forced-marriage story that uncannily matches Rosina’s.

The Guests:

Soprano Pretty Yende first sang the role of Rosina in Norway in 2014, and it’s since become one of her favorite roles. She loves playing Rosina because the character is fun, witty, and unlike so many operatic heroines, she gets to hit all the high notes and live happily ever after.

Conductor James Conlon is Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera. He first heard The Barber of Seville when he was 11 years old and fell in love on the spot. Later that summer, he made his debut as director, producer, and Count Almaviva in his friend’s garage, with a very appreciative audience lined up in the driveway.

Activist Jasvinder Sanghera is a survivor of forced marriage. She has spent the last four decades advocating for women, children, and men silenced by domestic abuse and forced marriages, and founded the award-winning charity Karma Nirvana in 1993. 

Apr 07, 2021
Verdi's Aida: There's No Place Like Home
41:29

They say you can’t go home again, and Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida knows it all too well. Captured from her homeland of Ethiopia and enslaved in Egypt, she falls in love with an Egyptian warrior. Aida is torn between her love for this man and her love for her home and, because it’s opera, she ultimately chooses the tenor.

In “O Patria Mia,” Aida stands on the banks of the Nile and says goodbye to Ethiopia. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore what home means, and what it means to leave it behind.

The Guests

Soprano Latonia Moore has sung the role of Aida more than a hundred times. She made her Met debut in the role with a day and a half’s notice, and it launched her international career. As a Black soprano, she feels like she has joined the club of great singers who have taken on the role.

Naomi André is a professor of Afro-American and African Studies and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan. She wrote her dissertation on Verdi’s operas and was blown away the first time she saw Aida at the Met. She thinks it’s amazing that a story about ancient Egypt still resonates today, and she still finds something new in the work every time she sees it.

Poet and visual artist Mahtem Shiferraw is from Ethiopia and Eritrea, but now lives in Los Angeles. Coming to the U.S. as an adult, she had to completely rebuild her sense of identity and belonging, and her understanding of home. Growing up in Ethiopia, she went to an Italian school and acted in a non-opera production of Aida.

Mar 24, 2021
Puccini's Turandot: Hope Never Sleeps
32:53

Sometimes, the only thing that gets us through the darkest moments is knowing that the sun will rise again on a new day. Puccini's final opera, Turandot, is about courage in the face of adversity, and love triumphing over fear. In other words, it is exactly what the world needs right now

The aria “Nessun dorma” is Prince Calaf’s declaration of love and resounding victory cry. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and three guests explore what makes this aria so popular even beyond the opera house, and how it became an anthem of resilience and hope during the COVID-19 pandemic. This episode features Italian tenor Franco Corelli in a Metropolitan Opera performance from the Before Times (a.k.a. 1966).

The Guests:

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal.  He loves conducting Puccini’s biggest, most majestic opera, but his favorite moments are the intimate arias like “Nessun dorma.”

Writer Anne Midgette is the former classical music critic for The Washington Post. She first heard the aria on a Book of the Month Club cassette tape in college, and thinks the secret sauce for “Nessun Dorma” is in its climactic underdog declaration of “Vincerò” -- “I will win.”

Dr. Michael Cho is a pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also a violist, and has been playing with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra for more than 15 years. Recently, he joined the National Virtual Medical Orchestra, a group that formed during COVID to give people in the medical field a chance to play together. Watch their performance of "Nessun Dorma" below.

 

In April of 2020, 700 children across Europe sang a virtual performance of "Nessun dorma" as a message of hope and solidarity, from Europa InCanto. You can meet two of the stars in this episode, and watch their performance below.

Mar 10, 2021
Aria Code Is Back and Bigger Than Ever!
1:19

The third season of the critically-acclaimed podcast is more expansive than the previous two, with a total of 18 new episodes released bi-weekly, starting March 10, 2021.

Just like a full season at the opera house, the podcast season will cover a staggering range of music, artists, and voices -- from early works by Handel all the way to the contemporary work of American composer and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. We'll cover fan favorites by Verdi and Puccini, as well as lesser-known gems by Stravinsky and Mussorgsky. 

Hosted by MacArthur Fellow and Grammy award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, and featuring master artists and other guests representing diverse voices and perspectives, the podcast connects opera to the experiences at the center of our humanity and the issues at the center of our lives. NBD.

Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera.

Mar 03, 2021
Rossini's La Cenerentola: Opera's Cinderella Story
41:18

Gioachino Rossini’s operatic version of the Cinderella story may not have any enchanted mice or pumpkins, but there’s plenty of magic in the music. Cinderella (or La Cenerentola, in Italian) has silently suffered the abuse of her stepfather and stepsisters, but in true fairy tale fashion, her fate changes for the better and all is made right by the triumph of goodness over evil. 

In the opera’s joyous finale “Nacqui all’affanno… Non più mesta,” Cenerentola looks ahead to a future with no more sadness. In this episode, Rhiannon Giddens and guests explore this universal tale and how it still resonates today. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato sings the aria onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.   

The Guests

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato loves the strength and sincerity of this great Rossini heroine. She has performed the title role in La Cenerentola at leading opera houses around the world and believes in its absolute celebration of human goodness.

Writer Fred Plotkin loves opera – all of it! – and he shares this love in his book Opera 101: A Guide to Learning and Loving Opera. He has a special connection to Rossini’s music, which he feels is all about the heartbeat.

Maria Tatar is a research professor at Harvard University in the fields of folkore and mythology. She vividly remembers when her sister used to read fairy tales to her as a child, and believes that we have the right and responsibility to keep retelling these stories in a way that’s meaningful to us today.

Mezzo-soprano Alma Salcedo’s mother tells her she’s been singing since she was nine months old. Her personal Cinderella story began in Venezuela and has brought her to Spain, where she has fought to keep her dreams of being a singer alive.  

Feb 05, 2020
Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann: Fool for Love
33:24

Love is intoxicating, but dating can be hard. In Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, a love-obsessed poet tells fantastical stories of romance gone very, very wrong. Based on the works of 19th-century Gothic horror writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, the opera is a journey through desire and loss – a journey that just might make you feel better about your own dating disasters! 

In the aria “Ô Dieu! de quelle ivresse,” the poet-protagonist Hoffmann professes his passionate love to the courtesan Giulietta. In this episode, Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the intoxicating power of romance, and the magically mysterious world created by both E.T.A. Hoffmann and Offenbach. Tenor Matthew Polenzani sings the aria onstage at the Metropolitan Opera

The Guests

Tenor Matthew Polenzani has just wrapped up his 22nd season at the Metropolitan Opera, which is one of many places he’s performed the role of Hoffmann. As a happily married man, he can’t quite relate to the poet’s unending heartbreak, but he does believe that all artists should have a touch of crazy in them.

Veronica Chambers is a writer and editor for The New York Times. In 2006, her essay “Loved and Lost? It’s O.K., Especially if You Win” was published in the Modern Love column, detailing her long list of doomed romances. But, like Hoffmann, she kept her heart wide open to the possibility of love.

Stage director Beth Greenberg directed The Tales of Hoffmann for New York City Opera back in 1996. She counts Jacques Offenbach among the greatest composers, in part because of his extraordinary sense of satire. She likes to think of him as “the Mel Brooks of the Champs-Élysées.”

Francesca Brittan is an Associate Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University. Her work focuses on 19th- and 20th-century music, and her 2017 book Music and Fantasy in the Age of Berlioz details her fascination with the fantasy genre in literature and in music. She loves exploring the secret worlds imagined by E.T.A. Hoffmann and writers like him.

Jan 29, 2020
Puccini's Turandot: Bewitched, Bothered, And Beheaded
37:10

The pain and fear of trauma can have a dramatic effect on your desire for love and intimacy.

This is true for Puccini’s Turandot, the titular ice princess who cuts off her feelings… and the heads of her suitors. In her first aria, “In questa reggia,” Turandot explains that she will avenge the rape and murder of her ancestress from thousands of years ago, and that she is determined never to be possessed by any man.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the truth at the heart of this aria: that time doesn’t heal all wounds, and that some are played out and recreated with every generation. At the end of the show, Christine Goerke sings “In questa reggia” from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests 

Soprano Christine Goerke loves the challenge of playing characters that seem unsympathetic, uncovering their complexity and somehow winning over the audience by the end of the opera. This is one of the many things that draws her to Turandot. 

Actor Anna Chlumsky became an opera fanatic after working on the Broadway show Living on Love with co-star Renée Fleming. Turandot is a particular family favorite, and the former “Veep” star enjoys watching Puccini’s grand spectacle over breakfast with her daughters. 

Will Berger is the author of Puccini Without Excuses, a funny and informative guide to one of opera’s greatest composers. Berger is equal parts opera buff and metalhead, bringing his love of intense storytelling to his work as a writer and media commentator for The Metropolitan Opera.

Jan 22, 2020
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess: Rise Up Singing
42:31

The most famous American opera opens with one of the most famous American songs: “Summertime.” The Gershwins’ haunting lullaby from Porgy and Bess is a simple tune with a complex story.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore not just the lyrics and music, but how Porgy and Bess came into being and the way it draws on the culture of the Gullah Geechee, descendants of formerly enslaved people living in and around South Carolina. Decoding two arias – "Summertime" and "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" – the show finds uncomfortable contradictions as well as uncanny parallels between the real lives of the Gullah people and the characters onstage. 

The Guests

Soprano Golda Schultz debuted as Clara at the Met earlier this year, her first time singing in the U.S. with a cast full of people of color. She believes that when telling stories from underrepresented groups, they must be told from places of joy and not only areas of pain. 

Naomi André knows better than most about the complicated racial history of Porgy and Bess. Still, the University of Michigan professor and author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement believes the show can be timely, relevant and moving.

Victoria Smalls is a Gullah woman who grew up on St. Helena Island off Charleston, South Carolina. She works as the Director of Art, History, and Culture at the Penn Center in South Carolina, an institution dedicated to promoting and preserving African American history and culture. She's also a federal commissioner for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.

Bass-baritone Eric Owens was initially reluctant to start singing Porgy, since so many African American singers have a hard time breaking out of that role. But even while reckoning with some of the controversial aspects of the Gershwins' opera, he has now sung the role for a decade and believes it is some of the most beautiful music written in the 20th century. 

Jan 15, 2020
Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier featuring Renée Fleming: Here's To You, Mrs. Marschallin
34:41

It’s not easy to accept the changes that come with time and age. For Strauss’s Marschallin, the trick is simply learning to let go. When the curtain comes up on Der Rosenkavalier, she is having an affair with the young Count Octavian, but she quickly comes to realize that she will one day lose him to a woman his own age. Throughout Act I, she reflects on her lost youth, her desire to stop all the clocks, and on the fleeting nature of beauty and love.  

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests ruminate on the passage of time as the Marschallin learns to let go of her younger lover, and her younger self. At the end of the show, soprano Renée Fleming sings, “Da geht er hin” from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Soprano Renée Fleming made the Marschallin one of her signature roles. Over the years, she explored many facets of this complex character, from her youthful impetuousness to her world-weariness. In her final performance of the Marschallin at the Met in 2017, Fleming expected to feel sadness, but instead, she was overcome with joy and gratitude. 

Writer Paul Thomason is currently writing a book on the music of Richard Strauss. He is in love with the music in Der Rosenkavalier, calling it “deep soul music.” 

Wendy Doniger is a writer and retired professor from the University of Chicago who shared a special love of opera with her mother. In fact, opera was more or less their form of religion, and Der Rosenkavalier was a particular favorite.

Dara Poznar is a life coach with her own story to tell about a relationship with a younger man, as well as her process of coming to terms with their age difference. In writing about this experience, she received an outpouring of camaraderie and support from other women who were also asking themselves the same questions about how their age would affect their relationships. 

Dec 18, 2019
Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice: Don't Look Back in Ardor

If a loved one were ever to die, how far would you be willing to go to bring them back? Orpheus, the ancient Greek musician, goes to hell and back to have a love of his life, Eurydice, by his side again. The gods cut a deal with Orpheus: he can bring his love back from hell, but all throughout the journey, she has to follow behind him and he is not allowed to look back at her. Unable to resist, he turns to see her,  and the gods take her for a second time. In a moment of overwhelming grief, Orpheus asks, “What will I do without Eurydice?” 

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests reflect on Christoph Gluck's operatic adaptation of the Orpheus myth and how grief can be all-encompassing, but so can love. At the end of the show, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings “Che farò senza Euridice” from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton grew up in a musical family, with days full of bluegrass, classic rock, and music history quizzes about the Beatles. In her role debut as Orfeo, she searches for this hero’s vulnerability, dramatically and vocally, and figures out how to embody a version of this character that’s modeled on Johnny Cash. 

Author Ann Patchett stumbled upon her love for opera while writing her book Bel Canto. But the Orpheus myth has been part of her life -- and has influenced her writing -- for quite a lot longer.  She’s fairly certain that she would travel to the depths of hell to save her husband of 25 years. 

Jim Walter lost his wife to cancer in 2015. He cared for her through some very difficult years, and kept hope alive even when things looked hopeless. He says that nowadays his grief usually isn’t as immediate and gut-punching as it once was, but he is still sometimes overcome with sadness at unexpected moments.

 

Dec 11, 2019
Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro: Sleepless in Sevilla
34:50

When your spouse cheats, your mind starts racing with a million questions. For the Countess Almaviva, one of them is: What happened to the spark we had and how can we get it back? The Countess lives inside Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro in Italian) and her philandering husband, the Count Almaviva, is due for a major comeuppance from his wife and her servant. But the Countess isn’t fixed on vengeance; she’s wondering how she can recapture the romance in her marriage.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests offer relationship advice to the heartsick Countess Almaviva. They focus on her aria “Dove sono,” a quiet moment of reflection when the Countess asks, “Where are the lovely moments?” You’ll hear how Mozart musically brings you inside the Countess’s thoughts, how hard it is to sing that music and why rekindling a romance is something many of us will face. Plus, you’ll hear Susanna Phillips sing the aria onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Guests

Susanna Phillips has sung the role of the Countess more than any other in her career. She isn’t sure whether the Countess will ever be able to forgive her husband’s dalliances, but she may find out this season when she reprises the role at the Met.

Cori Ellison is a dramaturg and a repeat guest on Aria Code. She believes that Mozart had a special gift both for understanding the human condition and sharing those insights through opera.

Dan Savage is a sex and relationship advice columnist and podcaster. Like Mozart, he believes that infidelity is a real part of the human condition. He’s less optimistic about the Count’s ability to be faithful when the curtain closes.

If you’re interested in going a little deeper on cheating and infidelity, our friends at the podcast Death, Sex, and Money have a whole episode about it! You’ll hear from men and women who’ve cheated and been cheated on, and how it made some of them more honest in their relationships. Subscribe to Death, Sex, and Money wherever you get your podcasts. 

Dec 04, 2019
Philip Glass’s Akhnaten: I Am Your Sunshine, Your Only Sunshine
42:56

You may not have heard of the Egyptian king Akhnaten, but the young pharaoh helped shape modern religion as we know it. His revolutionary efforts to shift Egypt away from worshiping many gods to worshiping just one paved the way for monotheism and the major Judeo-Christian faiths. His desire to remake the world is the subject of Philip Glass's entrancing opera.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests reflect on Akhnaten’s "Hymn to the Sun," an aria drawn from an ancient text of devotion. Akhnaten expresses his adoration of the sun and asserts himself as a prophet – a vision of his own power that eventually led to his downfall. At the end of the show, you'll hear countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sing the complete “Hymn to the Sun” from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo previously sang the role of Akhnaten at English National Opera in London and LA Opera, and he now stars as the titular pharaoh at the Metropolitan Opera. Even though he has lived with the character for nearly four years, he still hasn't decided whether he sees Akhnaten as a visionary or cult leader. But that doesn't stop him from wearing an Eye of Horus necklace.  

Kara Cooney is a professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA who spent years as an archaeologist in Egypt. At dig sites and in her research, Cooney has been able to uncover some moments of Akhnaten’s life, which still largely remains a mystery. Even she doesn’t quite understand her journey into Egyptology, she has always understood the world best through the lens of antiquity. 

Karen Kamensek is conducting Akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera. A self-proclaimed Glass groupie, she is our first guest who's been mentored by a show's original composer. The world-renowned conductor pays it forward by leading a number of youth orchestras. 

John Schaefer is the host of the WNYC radio program New Sounds. For more than 30 years, he has promoted the work of contemporary composers and performers. In 1984, he jumped at the chance to premiere Akhnaten on the radio

Special appearance by Rev. Paula Stone Williams, a pastor and LGBTQ advocate. As a transgender woman, Williams uses her experiences to foster more compassion in the world.

Nov 27, 2019
Puccini's Madama Butterfly: When My Ship Comes In
31:59

Sometimes an illusion is the hardest thing to let go of. For Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, that illusion comes in the form of a distant ship on the horizon, carrying her long lost husband. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton abandoned Cio-Cio-San three years earlier, but she's absolutely sure that one fine day he'll sail over the horizon and return for her and their child. 

The aria "Un bel di vedremo" captures Butterfly's unwavering faith in their reunion and her unflagging desire for a better life. In this episode, Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the power of hope in Puccini's tragedy, as well as in a real-world Butterfly story. Then, you'll hear Ana María Martínez sing the complete aria onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Guests

Soprano Ana María Martínez understands Butterfly not as a submissive woman-in-waiting, but as a woman of great determination and strength. Born in Puerto Rico, Martínez found some of her own inner strength when she and her parents moved to the mainland and left her extended family behind.

Composer and conductor Huang Ruo grew up in China, following in his father's footsteps by studying composition. A professor told him to go study in the United States, where he fell in love with Puccini. He's currently writing an opera based on David Henry Hwang’s play, M. Butterfly.

Sandra Kumamoto Stanley is a professor of English at California State University, Northridge. Her interest in Butterfly extends beyond the racialized fantasy within the opera: she has written about how society would have treated Cio-Cio-San’s mixed-race child.

A writer and former psychotherapist, Kyoko Katayama is the child of a Japanese woman and an American soldier stationed in Tokyo after World War II. Like Pinkerton, her biological father shipped out and unwittingly left behind his pregnant lover. Katayama sees a clear parallel between Butterfly’s life and her mother’s.

Special thanks to Kathryn Tolbert and Lucy Craft, whose work on The War Bride Experience was invaluable to this episode.

Nov 20, 2019
Verdi's Lady Macbeth: Sleepwalk with Me, featuring Anna Netrebko
37:04

Sometimes you get up in the middle of the night realizing that what is done can never be undone. For Lady Macbeth, no amount of handwringing (or hand-washing) can clear her conscience. She and her husband have done some really, really bad things in their pursuit of power, but it’s Lady Macbeth whose ambition drives her to midnight rantings about her crimes.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests reflect on Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene – her final appearance in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera based on Shakespeare. It’s a rumination on ambition and the dangers of running too hard at the things we desire the most. Or at least the things we think we deserve. At the end of the show, soprano Anna Netrebko sings the complete aria “Una macchia è qui tuttora” – Out, damned spot! – from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Leading soprano Anna Netrebko started her career singing the sweet and innocent Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, and now she’s completely at home playing Verdi’s murderous queen. She knows many highly ambitious people, but not one of them has ever killed a king (that she knows of). Netrebko debuted as Lady Macbeth at the Met in 2014. 

Anne Midgette’s lifelong love of Giuseppe Verdi began with Macbeth. As the Washington Post’s classical music critic, she’s written on Verdi and much more over her 11-year tenure. Her husband recently caught her singing Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene in the shower. They are still married.

Tana Wojczuk is a writer and teacher at New York University. She’s the author of the forthcoming Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America's First Celebrity which tells the story of the 19th-century actress who changed how we look at the role of Lady Macbeth.

Special appearance from Dame Judi Dench. A seven-time Academy Award nominee, Dench made a name for herself performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and twice starred as Lady Macbeth.

Nov 13, 2019
Aria Code with Rhiannon Giddens is Back!
1:21

Aria Code returns for Season 2 with 10 stunning arias and one big theme: desire. Opera singers and experts talk about the things we want the most – love, power and freedom.

In its first season, Aria Code became a low-key hit for both longtime opera fans and folks discovering it for the first time. Each episode opens a window into one aria – a feature for a single singer – and explores how and why these brief musical moments have imprinted themselves in our collective consciousness and what it takes to stand onstage and sing them.

Starting Nov. 13, 2019, the second season will explore the many facets of desire, from pining for an absent lover to killing for power. World-renowned opera stars — Anna Netrebko, Jamie Barton, Eric Owens and many more — offer insight into the motivations of their characters and, in turn, our own.

Hosted by Grammy Award-winner and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Rhiannon Giddens, Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera.

Nov 07, 2019
Floyd's Susannah: Hopeless in New Hope, featuring Renée Fleming
30:58

When the great American composer Carlisle Floyd wrote his first full-length opera, Susannah, back in the 1950s, he had no way of knowing how the Biblical themes of shame, blame and lust would still resonate today.

In this special episode of Aria Code, host Rhiannon Giddens joins soprano Renée Fleming, writer and stage director Thomas Holliday, and feminist writer Leora Tanenbaum to consider the haunting folk aria “The Trees on the Mountains,” and the devastating loss of innocence at the heart of the story. You’ll hear Fleming’s performance from the Metropolitan Opera’s 1999 production of Susannah, as well as Rhiannon Giddens’ version from her new album, there is no Other.

The Guests

One of the most celebrated singers of our time, soprano Renée Fleming has used her voice to break down the barriers between different genres of music. From opera to Broadway to jazz, and even the movie soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings, this fourteen-time Grammy nominated artist has sung it all.  

Stage director and writer Thomas Holliday practically became a member of the Floyd family when he embarked on five years of research and interviews for the comprehensive biography Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd.

Feminist writer Leora Tanenbaum has been writing books and articles about slut-shaming and the sexual double standard for over 20 years. When she’s not fighting the good fight for gender equality, Leora can be found at Columbia University, where she is Director of Communications.

Special thanks to the Metropolitan Opera, Boosey & Hawkes, and Nonesuch Records for the music in this episode. 

Jun 21, 2019
Flower Power: Don José and Dangerous Love in Bizet's Carmen
28:08

You hear the message over and over in pop culture: love overcomes everything. But when Don José sings “The Flower Song” in Bizet's Carmen, you're reminded that love has a dark side, too.

In the Season 1 finale, host Rhiannon Giddens welcomes tenor Roberto Alagna, critic Anne Midgette and psychologist Andrew G. Marshall to consider the crazy, possessive side of love and the importance of experiencing art that doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending. Then, you’ll hear Alagna sing the role of the passionate and violent Don José onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Guests

Tenor Roberto Alagna first performed as Don José when he was 35. Twenty years and many performances later, he thinks he “judged” José a little too harshly in the past and now feels more empathy for the character's misguided and obsessive love.

As a teenager, Washington Post critic Anne Midgette dreamed of living in Europe with a boyfriend who sang opera. When she moved there after college and dated a tenor who sang “The Flower Song” on a train platform, she thought, “Oh my god, my dream came true.”

When writer and marital therapist Andrew G Marshall took his parents to see Carmen, they expected to hear some familiar tunes and a sweet love story. Instead, they got “horror and bloodshed.” Pro tip: always read the program notes.

Feb 06, 2019
Massenet's Werther: You've Got Mail!
29:41

A picture may paint a thousand words, but nothing compares to the intimacy and immediacy of a handwritten letter. Hearing the "Letter Aria" from Jules Massenet's Werther will prove it. From an opera based on the Goethe novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, this scene finds the tortured heroine Charlotte re-reading the letters of the doomed poet.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens welcomes soprano Isabel Leonard, pianist Mary Dibbern and author Peter Bognanni to explore why the words we write to each other have so much power – sometimes even more than the ones we say aloud. They'll reflect on Massenet's talent for showing Charlotte's deep connection to Werther and you'll even get a real-life story about how email brought two people together. Then you'll hear Isabel Leonard sing the complete scene onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Guests

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard can handle many different roles – this season she's sung everything from Nico Muhly to Claude Debussybut describes Charlotte as one of her most challenging. "The vocal writing is relentless," she says. "Massenet had a way of expressing a very deep understanding of Charlotte's complex struggle."

Pianist Mary Dibbern began her love affair with French opera began in Paris more than 30 years ago. Since then, she’s translated a biography of Jules Massenet and is currently the Music Director of Education for the Dallas Opera.

Minneapolis-based Peter Bognanni fell in love with his wife over email. He is also the author of Things I’m Seeing Without You, a modern-day story about two teens who fall in love over text messages and email.

Jan 30, 2019
Mozart's Queen of the Night: Outrage Out of This World
26:04

When the Voyager spacecraft set off to explore the galaxy in 1977, it carried a recording to represent the best of humanity. The Golden Record featured everyone from Bach to Chuck Berry, but there was only one opera aria: the rage-fest from Mozarts The Magic Flute.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests consider why the Queen of the Night’s big moment – “Der Hölle Rache – is an out-of-this-world achievement, how Mozart created a profound fairy tale for adults and what it takes for a soprano to reach the stratosphere. You’ll hear Kathryn Lewek hit all those high notes onstage at the Metropolitan Opera and talk to Timothy Ferris, the man who produced NASA’s Golden Record.

The Guests

Soprano Kathryn Lewek describes singing “Der Hölle Rache” as throwing darts with your eyes closed. But after performing the part more than 200 times, she certainly knows how to hit the bullseye.

Harvard University professor Carolyn Abbate once took her son to see The Magic Flute and he declared it to be “bad, but not in the way I expected it be bad.” Her latest book is A History of Opera: The Last Four Hundred Years.

Composer and author Jan Swafford was a graduate student when he spent his last $50 to buy a copy of The Magic Flute and immediately regretted it: he hated the opera. To say he’s warmed to Mozart over the years would be a wild understatement.

Timothy Ferris produced the Golden Record that went up with NASA’s Voyager space probes in 1977. It was the only record he ever produced, but he's written many books including Coming of Age in the Milky Way, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Jan 23, 2019
Verdi's Rigoletto: First Love, Wrong Love
32:30

You’ve probably been there: in love for the first time and enchanted by the very sound of your sweetheart’s name. The problem for Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto is that her new love isn’t who he says he is. The worst will come (it’s opera), but for a few brief moments in Act I, Gilda’s innocence sweeps you away. She’s young and head over heels and obsessing over the “caro nome,” the “dear name” of her new love. 

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests consider the dizzying thrill of your first love, Verdi’s brilliant powers of orchestration and why Gilda’s infatuation rings so true even today. You’ll hear soprano Nadine Sierra reminisce about her own formative experiences and then fall in love with the so-called “Gualtier Maldè onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Guests

Before Nadine Sierra could be accurately described as one of the most talented young artists in opera, she was a self-described “opera nerd.” She had a protective family – like Gilda – but that couldn’t stop her from secretly riding to high school in her boyfriend’s car.

Paul Thomason has combined his lifelong passion for music, colorful storytelling skills and a knack for mid-century slang to become one of the most insightful writers and lecturers on opera. He’s written for far too many publications to list.

Carl Pickhardt is a psychologist and author who has spent decades helping parents and children navigate the challenges of adolescence. His most recent book is titled Who Stole My Child? Parenting Through the Four Stages of Adolescence

Jan 16, 2019
Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment: Sailing the High Cs
28:29

Singing even one high C can be an event for the tenor and his audience. Everyone in the room knows how easily it could go wrong. Multiply that pressure by nine? You get “Ah, mes amis.”

Gaetano Donizetti wrote this high-stakes aria for his opera La Fille du Régiment. The young hero Tonio has just enlisted in the army and received permission to marry the girl of his dreams. “Ah, mes amis” is his celebration: Tonio’s bursting with so much joy that the guy sings nine – count ‘em, NINE – high Cs.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests consider the sheer athleticism it takes to pull off Ah, mes amis and reflect on the power of love to make us do crazy things. And after surveying this Mount Everest of tenor arias with a singer, a vocal coach and a former NFL player, you'll hear tenor Javier Camarena scale its heights from his base camp on the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Renowned tenor Javier Camarena made his professional debut singing the role of Tonio, but remembers it as both exciting and terrifying: as a young singer in Mexico, he didn't really speak any French. "I think it was like, Spang-French or something like that," he says, laughing about it now.

When Lydia Brown first came to New York, she used to line up on Saturday mornings to get cheap seats to the Met Opera. Now she's working inside the building as a vocal coach to some of the world’s top singers.  

Ta’u Pupu’a is a former defensive end for the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. After a career-ending injury, he attended Juilliard Opera Center and transformed from a tackler to a tenor. He now performs at opera houses across the world.

Jan 09, 2019
Saint-Saëns’s Dalila: She's a Femme Fatale
29:36

She seduces, she traps, she destroys. She's a femme fatale and her signature aria is the dangerously alluring “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns. "My heart opens to your voice,” sings Dalila, "like the flowers open to the kisses of the dawn." It sure sounds like a love song, but just below the surface it’s simmering with seduction and betrayal.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests reflect on the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah, the trope of the femme fatale and how Saint-Saëns created this unforgettable moment that sounds as if Dalila’s slowly removing her clothing, one note at a time. Plus, you'll hear mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča sing the complete aria from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča made her Met debut a decade ago, but the role of Dalila is relatively new to her: she first sang Samson et Dalila at the Vienna State Opera in May 2018. But judging from her recent appearance at WQXR, the part of a Biblical seductress suits her just fine.

James Jorden is the founding editor of the world's first (and still very popular) opera blog Parterre Box. He's written for many other publications, including Opera News, The New York Times and the New York Observer. In another life, he used to sing “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix."

Dr. Caroline Blyth teaches religious studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and studies Biblical themes in contemporary culture. She spent eight years researching the Delilah story for her book Reimagining Delilah’s Afterlives as Femme Fatale: The Lost Seduction.

 


Jan 02, 2019
Puccini's Tosca: I Offered Songs to the Stars
24:17

When things go from bad to worse for Tosca, Puccini’s tragic heroine, she turns inward and prays. “I lived for art,” she tells God, “I lived for love.” What did I do to deserve all this? Tosca's despair and the moving way Puccini captures it musically speak so directly to artists, to audiences, to all of us, that "Vissi d'arte" has become one of the most famous arias in opera.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests consider what it means to "live for art" and how Tosca's lament has given them much needed strength, whether facing personal struggles, the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic or the persistent sexual harassment that sparked the #MeToo movement. Plus, you'll hear soprano Sondra Radvanovksy sing the complete aria from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Sondra Radvanovsky first sang Tosca in Denver and didn't quite anticipate how the high altitude would leave her even more breathless than the music! In the many years since, she's established herself as one of the great Puccini (and Verdi) singers and returns to the Met as Floria Tosca in March 2019.

Rufus Wainwright comes from a famously musical family, but his curiosity took him far beyond his singer-songwriter roots. As a child, he used to stage operas at home with his siblings and, as an adult, he's written the two operas, Prima Donna and Hadrian.

Vivien Schweitzer is a pianist and the author of the new book A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera. She worked for ten years as a classical music and opera critic for the New York Times. She has also written for the BBC, the Moscow Times, and The Economist.


 

 

Dec 26, 2018
Puccini's La Boheme: Is Love at First Sight Really a Thing?
25:02

Love at first sight is not just a cliché of romantic comedies: more than half of all Americans say they’ve experienced it. Can this explain the timeless appeal of Puccini’s La Bohème? In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests consider what love at first sight is really all about, sharing perspectives on the music, the history and, yes, the brain science. Plus, you'll hear tenor Vittorio Grigolo sing the complete aria "Che gelida manina" from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Vittorio Grigolo started singing as a young boy, when the Italian press gave him the nickname Il Pavarottino (“The Little Pavarotti”). Today, he is one of the world’s leading tenors. He debuted as Rodolfo in La Bohème at the Met in 2010.

James Kuslan is a lecturer and writer on opera and culture. His writing has appeared everywhere from the pages of Opera News to the liner notes of Deutsche Gramophon records.

Dr. Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who studies the brain systems that affect human social behavior. She holds positions at Rutgers University and the Kinsey Institute. She is also the Chief Scientific Advisor to Match.com.

The Team

Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with the Metropolitan Opera. Our team includes Merrin Lazyan, Brendan Francis Newnam, Matt Boynton, Ricardo Quiñones, Ania Grzesik, Khrista Rypl and Matt Abramovitz. Original music by Hannis Brown.


Dec 12, 2018
Verdi's La Traviata: Opera's Original 'Pretty Woman'
33:10

Verdi’s La Traviata revolves around the high-class courtesan Violetta, the quintessential "tart with a heart" who falls for Mr. Right but can’t decide whether she really wants to settle down. (Spoiler alert: it’s an opera, so she never gets the chance.) In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests reflect on Violetta’s spectacular Act I finale and its deep inner conflicts around love and freedom. Plus, you'll hear the complete aria sung from the Met Opera stage.

The Guests

Diana Damrau is one of the leading sopranos of our time. She has performed at all the world's major opera companies, specializing in lyric and coloratura roles. She's currently singing the role of Violetta at the Metropolitan Opera.

Cori Ellison is the company dramaturg for Santa Fe Opera and has also worked with the Glynebourne Festival Opera, New York City Opera and the Juilliard School. She's our go-to opera guru for traditional and contemporary repertoire.

Brooke Magnanti is a writer who earned her doctorate in forensic pathology, but you might know her as Belle de Jour. Her book, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, documented her year working as an escort and inspired a TV series and several follow-up books.

The Team

Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with the Metropolitan Opera. Our team includes Merrin Lazyan, Brendan Francis Newnam, Matt Boynton, Ricardo Quiñones, Ania Grzesik, Khrista Rypl and Matt Abramovitz. Original music by Hannis Brown.

Dec 04, 2018
Welcome to Aria Code with Rhiannon Giddens
2:21

Aria Code is a new podcast that pulls back the curtain on some of the most famous arias in opera history, with insight from the biggest voices of our time, including Plácido Domingo, Diana Damrau, Sondra Radvanovsky, and many others. Hosted by Grammy Award-winner and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Rhiannon Giddens, Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera.

Each episode dives into one aria — a feature for a single singer — and explores how and why these brief musical moments have imprinted themselves in our collective consciousness and what it takes to stand on the Met stage and sing them.

Our first episode drops December 4, 2018!

Nov 19, 2018