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 Plácido Domingo, 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 biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 C's. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens considers the sheer athleticism it takes to pull off “Ah, mes amis” with a singer, a vocal coach and a former NFL player. And once they've surveyed this Mount Everest of tenor arias, you'll hear tenor Javier Camarena scale its heights from his base camp on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
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 welcomes mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, writer James Jorden of Parterre Box and scholar Caroline Blyth. 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 Garanča sing the complete aria from the Metropolitan Opera stage.
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.
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.
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.
What would you give up for true love? Verdi's La Traviata opens a window into a courtesan's heart as she makes the biggest decision of her life. In this episode, host Rhiannon Giddens welcomes soprano Diana Damrau, dramaturg Cori Ellison and former escort Dr. Brooke Magnanti to reflect on the spectacular Act I finale and its deep inner conflicts around love and freedom. Plus, you'll hear the complete aria sung by Diana Damrau from the Met Opera stage.