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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.

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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. 

34mins

4 Dec 2019

Rank #1

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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 is joined by soprano Nadine Sierra, writer Paul Thomason and psychologist Carl Pickhardt. Together they 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 Nadine Sierra reminisce about her own formative experiences and then fall in love with the so-called “Gualtier Maldè” onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

32mins

16 Jan 2019

Rank #2

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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 Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens is joined by soprano Kathryn Lewek, musicologist Carolyn Abbate and author Jan Swafford. Together they 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.”

26mins

23 Jan 2019

Rank #3

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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.

37mins

13 Nov 2019

Rank #4

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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. 

42mins

15 Jan 2020

Rank #5

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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.

1min

7 Nov 2019

Rank #6

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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.  

34mins

18 Dec 2019

Rank #7

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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 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.

30mins

21 Jun 2019

Rank #8

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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.

29mins

30 Jan 2019

Rank #9

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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 guests Sondra Radvanovsky, Rufus Wainwright and Vivien Schweitzer 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 Sondra Radvanovksy sing the complete aria from the Metropolitan Opera stage.

24mins

26 Dec 2018

Rank #10