Aria Code

By WQXR & The Metropolitan Opera

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Subscribers: 693
Reviews: 4

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

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

 Jun 18, 2019

 Feb 2, 2019


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
Rossini's La Cenerentola: Opera's Cinderella Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 first sang the role of Akhnaten with the LA Opera in 2016 and 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

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 chairs the Asian American Studies department at California State University. 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

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!

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 November 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

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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
Verdi's Otello: We All Have Demons, But Sometimes The Demons Have Us

The legendary Plácido Domingo says he's not a jealous guy, but he must know something about it because he's played the part of Othello more than 200 times. Shakespeare called jealousy the "green-eyed monster" and no opera captures what happens when that monster takes over better than Verdi's adaptation of the tragedy.

In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests consider how jealousy always seems to know where to find us: at work, in our friendships, and of course, in love. Plácido Domingo takes you through his career-defining role, sharing the tragedy of a man undone by his demons, plus you'll hear him sing the complete aria "Dio mi potevi Scagliar" from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The Guests

Plácido Domingo is not only Rhiannon's favorite singer, but he is also one of the most influential artists in the history of opera. He just celebrated fifty years of performing at the Met and has played the role of Otello (by his count) 225 times.

Robert L. Leahy is teaches at Weill Cornell Medical School and is the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. He's written 27 books, including The Jealousy Cure.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson is an actor, playwright and director. He may best known for his work on TV and on Broadway, but this year he directed Othello for Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.

Virginia Mason Vaughan is a member of the faculty at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. For more than three decades, she's studied the construct of race in Shakespeare's time and is the author of Othello: A Contextual History.

Thanks, too, to Justin Cunningham who read the part of Othello. He's a Julliard-trained actor and you'll see him next in the new Netflix series about the Central Park Five.

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 19, 2018
Puccini's La Boheme: Is Love at First Sight Really a Thing?

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

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'

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

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