Aria Code 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.
Aria Code

Aria Code


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.

Most Recent Episodes

Love Takes Flight: Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas

It's the early 1900s, and the steamship El Dorado makes its way along the Amazon River towards Manaus, a city in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest. Onboard is the world-famous opera singer Florencia Grimaldi. She's got a gig at the opera house in Manaus, but that's just a cover. She's actually hoping for a reunion with her long-lost love, the butterfly catcher Cristóbal. But on the journey, Florencia learns that Cristóbal went missing in the rainforest while in pursuit of a rare butterfly. From the deck of the ship — and now in quarantine due to a cholera outbreak — she delivers her final aria, calling out to him, the river and the rainforest that surround her: "Escúchame." Hear me, listen to me. "From you my song was born," she affirms — and in embracing her love for him, she is released and reborn. Daniel Catán's lush and lyrical score has become a staple of contemporary operas, and its staging marks the Metropolitan Opera's first Spanish-language production in nearly 100 years. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests take us on a journey through natural wonder, transcendent love, and self-discovery. THE GUESTS Soprano Ailyn Pérez makes her Metropolitan Opera debut in her native language of Spanish as Florencia Grimaldi. She identifies with Florencia and the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to pursue an artistic career. Andrea Puente-Catán is a harpist, director of development at Ballet Hispánico, and the widow of "Florencia" composer Daniel Catán. She met Catán when she was 17 years old. Decades later, playing harp in that opera's production at Palacia de Bellas Artes brought them back together. Author, filmmaker, and fearless traveler Alycin Hayes knows a thing or two about Amazonian adventures. When she was 21, she hitchhiked from her home in Canada to South America, where she met up with other roving internationals to paddle along the Amazon River in a dugout canoe. She describes her adventures in her recent memoir "Amazon Hitchhiker." Paul Rosolie is conservationist, writer, and wildlife filmmaker whose memoir "Mother of God" details his extensive work in the Amazon. He's the founder and field director of Junglekeepers, a conservation outfit based in Peru, and he joins the show via a remote interview taped in the jungle.

Davis's X: The Life and Legacy of Malcolm X

Malcolm X led many lives within his 39 years: as a bereaved but precocious child; as an imprisoned convict; as a firebrand spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and Black nationalism; and ultimately as one of the most pivotal figures of the Civil Rights movement. Today, he continues to inspire passion and controversy, his legacy as nuanced as the man himself. Anthony Davis's opera "X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X" seeks to gather Malcolm X's many identities and hold them together in the way only an artistic work can. When the piece was premiered by New York City Opera in 1986, it broke ground not just for its unique melding of jazz and blues idioms with contemporary classical traditions, but also for the choice made by Davis and his cousin, the librettist Thulani Davis, to situate recent history on the operatic stage. It turns out that a life as dramatic and urgent as Malcolm X's is ripe for opera. In the aria "You Want The Story, But You Don't Want To Know," Anthony and Thulani Davis take the occasion of a police interrogation to let Malcolm X's character reflect on the tragedies and injustices that have shaped his life up to that moment — and, in his refusal to deliver "easier" narratives, to presage the often tumultuous search for truth and righteousness that would direct his life in years to come. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the drama and the passion of Malcolm X's life and its inherent musicality upon the Metropolitan Opera's premiere of this modern classic. THE GUESTS It may have taken nearly forty years for composer Anthony Davis to see the Metropolitan Opera stage "X," but he's kept himself busy in the interim. This prolific composer, which The New York Times described as "the dean of African-American opera composers," is also known for "Amistad," "Wakonda's Dream," and "The Central Park Five," the latter of which won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2020. If anyone was born to be a musician, it's Davis: People tell him that the first time he played the piano was as a baby sitting in the lap of jazz pianist Billy Taylor. Grammy Award-winning baritone Will Liverman was described by The Washington Post as a "voice for this historic moment." Portraying Malcolm X in the Metropolitan Opera's production of "X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X" is only his most recent artistic triumph. Others include his breakout performance as Charles in Terence Blanchard's "Fire Shut Up In My Bones" and the premiere of "The Factotum," an opera he both starred in and co-created. His hope for "X" is to help "kill some of the preconceived notions about who Malcolm X was and find the humanity in him." Zaheer Ali is the executive director of the Hutchins Institute for Social Justice at the Lawrenceville School and something of a Malcolm X expert (a Malcolm X-pert?). He served as the project manager of the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University and his work on the Civil Rights icon has been featured in documentaries like Netflix's "Who Killed Malcolm X?" and CNN's "Witnessed: The Assassination of Malcolm X." He traces his fascination with Malcolm X back to an assignment given by his eleventh-grade English teacher.

Revisiting Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice: Don't Look Back in Ardor

If a loved one were 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 the 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?" Ahead of this season's production of "Orfeo ed Euridice" by the Metropolitan Opera, we're revisiting this episode, in which host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests reflect on Christoph Gluck's operatic adaptation of the Orpheus myth and the all-encompassing nature of both grief and 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 a lot longer. She's fairly certain that she would travel to the depths of hell to save her husband of 29 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.

Good Things Come to Those Who Weep: Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore

"L'Elisir d'Amore" — "The Elixir of Love" — is what's known as an opera buffa, or comic opera. That means that we're in for a happy ending. But Donizetti knows that the payoff is only earned through the suffering of his protagonists. In one pivotal moment, our hero Nemorino glimpses his beloved shedding a single tear — and he concludes (crazily, but correctly) that it can only mean that she loves him back. The aria Nemorino delivers here — one of the most famous in the history of opera — expresses the singular moment when the agony of unrequited love shifts to the certainty of a blissful future. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests unpack the potential for heartbreak that lies within every happy ending and why Donizetti might be one of the most underrated opera composers. Tenor Matthew Polenzani brings it home with a rendition of "Una furtiva lagrima" from the Met stage. THE GUESTS Over the course of a career spanning more than 30 years, tenor Matthew Polenzani has sung the role of Nemorino on opera stages all over the world. He has a family of barbershop quartet singers to thank for his introduction to music. Fred Plotkin is the author of "Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera." As a proud Donizetti fanboy, he believes that the psychological insight Donizetti brings to his characters is nearly unmatched in the work of other composers. When she's not teaching French at St. Mary's College of Maryland, Laine Doggett is brushing up on her medieval lore. As the author of "Love Cures: Healing and Magic in Old French Romance," she knows a thing or two about magical elixirs. Judith Fetterley is a former professor, master gardener, and writer. She's got a love story of her own that involves elixirs. You might have read it in the New York Times' "Modern Love" column under the title, Was She Just Another Nicely Packaged Pain Delivery System?

Death, Faith, and Redemption: Heggie's Dead Man Walking

What does redemption mean to a man sentenced to death? Is capital punishment justice or vengeance? Could anyone ever forgive a murderer? These are just some of the questions behind the true story of the nun who became a spiritual adviser to men on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Dead Man Walking was first a 1993 memoir by the Catholic nun and fervent death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean; later, it was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie. Sister Helen's story inspired a national conversation around the death penalty — and the opera duo Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally. Their adaptation of Sister Helen's story has become one of the most celebrated operas of the 21st century, and, with the last federal execution taking place as recently as 2021, feels as timely as ever. In her aria "This Journey," Sister Helen's character reflects on her religious calling as she makes her way to the Angola prison for the first time. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests take us deeper into the true story that inspired the opera and the experiences that continue to inform Sister Helen Prejean's ministry. The Guests The Metropolitan Opera's 2023 production of Dead Man Walking marks the fifth time mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has sung the role of Sister Helen. She describes the role as one that's impossible to emerge from without feeling changed. Having embodied Sister Helen so many times, DiDonato feels "much less comfortable turning a blind eye to things." American composer Jake Heggie is best known for Dead Man Walking, the most widely performed new opera of the last 20 years. In addition to 10 other full-length operas and numerous one-acts, Heggie has composed more than 300 art songs, as well as concerti, chamber music, choral, and orchestral works. When librettist Terrence McNally proposed adapting Dead Man Walking into an opera, Heggie's "hair stood on end" and he immediately "felt and heard music." Sister Helen Prejean is a Roman Catholic nun, the author of the memoir Dead Man Walking, and a leading voice in the effort to abolish the death penalty. She's served as a spiritual counselor to numerous convicted inmates on Death Row as well as to families of murder victims and survivors of violent crimes. Despite her wisdom, Sister Helen claims to know "boo-scat" about opera.

Aria Code Returns for Season 4!

At last! After much anticipation, Aria Code returns! We're guiding listeners through highlights from the Metropolitan Opera's 2023-2024 season, pairing beloved classics with investigations into modern masterpieces. So get ready for a night at the opera — from the comfort of your own home. (Or wherever!) Arias from the likes of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking and Anthony Davis's X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X will tackle some of the most complex social and ethical questions head-on, while classics like Bizet's Carmen and Gounod's Roméo et Juliette plunge us into the thick of opera's favorite themes of desire, love, and longing. Hosted by Grammy Award-winner, MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, and (most recently) Pulitzer Prize-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, each episode features a signature combination of music and riveting storytelling, paired with Met Opera performances by world-renowned opera stars, including Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani, Will Liverman, Clémentine Margaine, Diana Damrau, and Ailyn Pérez. Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera. This season, we'll be releasing episodes on a biweekly basis, starting October 4.

P.S. I Love You: Renée Fleming Sings Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

Saying "I love you" for the first time takes courage, especially when you don't know the response you'll get. But being open with your emotions and putting yourself out there can change you in unexpected ways. In Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, it's the 16-year-old Tatyana who pins her heart on her sleeve. Young and naive, but also fiercely confident, she pours out her feelings for the visiting Eugene Onegin in one night of impassioned love-letter-making. His answer defines the rest of her life, and the course of the opera. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore Tatyana's famous Letter Scene and what it tells us about Tchaikovsky, Russian society, and the nearly universal experience of unrequited love. Soprano Renée Fleming is one of the most acclaimed singers of her generation, singing across genres from classical to Broadway to jazz and more. Of all the roles she's performed, the shy and soulful Tatyana is the one she relates to best. She loves the Letter Scene because it allows her to act out the intense emotions of a teenager who's fallen in love for the very first time. Dr. Philip Ewell is a professor of music theory at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where he specializes in Russian music, 20th-century music, race studies in music, and more. He trained as a cellist in Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has spent seven years total living there. He loves to teach Eugene Onegin to his Russian opera seminar through the lens of Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi." (Trust him, it works!) Tim Manley is a writer, illustrator, storyteller, and educator. He performed his story "I Need You To Know" with The Moth in 2015, where he now leads storytelling workshops. He found that opening up about his feelings in front of an audience transformed his life. Tim also created the web series The Feels, which was nominated for an Emmy. He is currently working on a young adult novel.

To Be Or Not To Be: Dean's Hamlet

"To be or not to be, that is the question." It's hard to think of a more famous line from a more famous play. In this iconic speech from Shakespeare's Hamlet, the troubled Danish prince asks whether this whole life thing is even worth it. But "to be or not to be'' is not the only question we're asking this week. When everyone knows this line so well, how do you make it fresh again? How does adapting Shakespeare's play into an opera change our understanding of the text? In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore one of the most famous speeches in literature, its transformation into opera, and why Hamlet's brooding soliloquy continues to intrigue artists and audiences four centuries later. Tenor Allan Clayton created the role of Hamlet in Brett Dean's opera at the Glyndebourne Festival in 2017. Dean wrote this vocally and dramatically challenging part specifically for Clayton: he would have him read monologues from Shakespeare's original in order to get a sense of his voice and once even emailed him changes during an intermission. Opera dramaturg Cori Ellison worked closely with composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn throughout the development of Hamlet. She was the staff dramaturg at the Glyndebourne Festival from 2012 through 2017, where Hamlet premiered, and has worked with opera companies around the world, including as a staff dramaturg at New York City Opera and Santa Fe Opera. Actor and director Samuel West has worked across theater, film, television, and radio, but he was obsessed with Shakespeare's Hamlet. He starred as the Danish prince (whom he describes as "a floppy-shirted noodle") for one year and three days with the Royal Shakespeare Company. But who's counting?! Jeffrey R. Wilson is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Harvard, where he teaches a course called "Why Shakespeare?" He feels that Shakespeare is still so popular because of the deep and varied problems his plays present: textual, theatrical, thematic, and ethical problems. He is the author of three books, including Shakespeare and Trump and Shakespeare and Game of Thrones.

Potion, Emotion, Devotion: Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

When we talk about "falling in love," we talk about it like it is something that just happens. Suddenly the ground opens up and we are falling for somebody, as if there is no choice in the matter. This is everywhere — in movies, TV shows, novels, and of course, in opera. Take Wagner's Tristan und Isolde - while Tristan is bringing her across the Irish sea to marry his uncle Marke, King of Cornwall, they both drink a love potion and fall instantly, madly in love with each other. But Isolde is still betrothed to King Marke, who catches them in a passionate night of love, and one of his men stabs Tristan, who later dies from the wound. Standing over his lifeless body, Isolde sings of her love for Tristan in her final climactic aria, the "Liebestod," as their love triumphs over even death itself. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore forbidden passion, agonizing desire, and what it means to "fall" in love. Soprano Jane Eaglen is known for her portrayals of Wagner's most commanding heroines, including Brünnhilde and Isolde. She actually met her husband during her first-ever production of Tristan und Isolde at Seattle Opera, and she would find his seat in the audience each night and sing to him from the stage. She is on the voice faculty at the New England Conservatory. Alex Ross is the music critic for The New Yorker and author of The Rest is Noise and Listen to This. He spent nearly a decade writing his most recent book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, which explores Wagner's wide and complicated influence on art and politics. When he first heard Wagner's music, he thought it was "messy, unsteady, and confusing," but Tristan und Isolde was the opera that changed his mind. Mandy Len Catron has been studying and writing about romantic love for ten years. She wrote the essay, "To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This," for The New York Times "Modern Love" column about how she and a friend fell in love by answering 36 questions and staring into each other's eyes--almost like a modern-day love potion. The essay went viral shortly after its publication in 2015. She has also written the book How To Fall in Love With Anyone: A Memoir In Essays. To spice things up, she's currently working on a book about loneliness.

Blanchard's Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Boy of Peculiar Grace

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.