Aria Code Dive into opera's most famous arias with the Met Opera's leading stars. Hosted by Rhiannon Giddens. Produced by WNYC Studios and WQXR, in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera.
Aria Code

Aria Code

From WNJP Radio - FM

Dive into opera's most famous arias with the Met Opera's leading stars. Hosted by Rhiannon Giddens. Produced by WNYC Studios and WQXR, in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera.

Most Recent Episodes

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Richard 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.

Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier featuring Renée Fleming: Here's To You, Mrs. Marschallin

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

When someone you love dies, 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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