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As fancy as I am, I do have a little cultural blind spot: opera. And oh my goodness, I just lie about it all the time. I’ve discovered that you only have to know about ONE opera to know more than most people, so it’s a good gamble to take if you’re trying to look like an expert. Just start nattering on about La Rondine in excruciating detail and trust me: no one will ask you one single question about it or any other opera. For extra credit, hum a few bars. La-la-la-LAAAAAAAA! And then just watch them run for the exits!

You could just listen to Aria Code, the Rhiannon Giddens-hosted podcast that deconstructs and analyzes a famous aria each week—and each episode does way more than just offering up a musical analysis.

For the episode about “Dove sono,” from The Marriage of Figaro, for example, Giddens talks not only to soprano Susanna Phillips (who sings it) but also to columnist and therapist Dan Savage, who tackles the infidelity issues the aria brings up. Each episode is a little thirty-minute crash course that reveals the complicated—sometimes thrilling—reasons why we still listen to these pieces. 

While each episode’s breakdown helps provide understanding of that particular aria’s meaning, the real meat of each episode is when Giddens and her guests contextualize the piece at hand, both in its original time and in our current one. Issues of politics, gender roles, diversity, and sexuality are brought up and dealt with seriously and deftly. (I strongly recommend the episode about “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, with guest Victoria Smalls, a Gullah woman who’s now a commissioner for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.)

After a loooong hiatus, Aria Code is back for a third season on March 10 with eighteen (!) new episodes and—fascinatingly—a promise to examine some jazz pieces as well. So if you thought my operatic la-la-la-ing was annoying, wait’ll you hear my muted trumpet!

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About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.


  • Thanks for this .. I love the Met and have really missed their performances in local cinemas this year ..

    • The Met Opera is live streaming a different opera every night and will continue to do so until they reopen. A mix of HD from the theaters and older classics.

  • DG always leads to good things. Thank you❤️

  • If DG writes about it, I’m game to try it. Love his writing.

  • One of my favorite podcasts! We saw Rhiannon Giddens many years ago when she was with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and have been fans ever since. Her musicality and artistry are extraordinary!

  • So glad to hear about this. I’m a fan of Rhiannon Giddens and her fantastic voice. I’m excited that she has a podcast on opera. That was her school background so I’m sure I will learn a lot from these podcasts.

  • Thanks, I will try it while finishing some socks this weekend!

  • One of my favorite podcasts!

  • OhMyGoodness, you had me completely with Rhiannon Giddons and opera! My dad was a plumber’s son who became the first person in his family to go to college (on the GI bill), after serving in Korea, joining as a seventeen year old. He became one of the engineers who sent men to the moon, using a slide rule.
    All of which totally unnecessary information is to say that when he grew up, opera was not just for the well-off and well-educated. My dad could whistle entire arias! He introduced me to opera.
    I am not an opera buff, but we did go all the way into downtown LA to attend a gorgeous performance of La Boheme, still my favorite. My best friend in high school and I knew and sang, loudly, off-key, The Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore (the translation made us giggle). Zefirelli’s movie version of La Traviata did for opera what his Romeo and Juliet did for Shakespeare (briefly). I need to find and watch it again. A good friend and I exited the theater weeping copiously, exclaiming at the beauty and sexism, simultaneously.
    Such memories, thank you so much; now to find that podcast.

  • It’s a wonderful podcast.
    It’s been promoted by my local (and Kay’s) classical NPR and got great reviews when it began.
    Now more exposure and new fans….

  • I love Aria Code! Whenever I recommend it I start off with “I don’t really like opera, I’ve fallen asleep in the audience of several operas, but I love this podcast”. I was so glad to see it come back. Seconding the love for the Porgy and Bess episode, along Phillip Glass’ Akhnaten, and the Queen of the Night.

  • I just subscribed! Thank you for the recommendation.

  • Another jewel! Thank you so much for adding this to my listening pleasures.

  • I didn’t know about this! I love opera but know very little about it apart from having sung bits and pieces in my various choral groups over the years. From my rare and very! much! enjoyed! attendance at live performances, I have concluded that all of them are about beautiful ladies who get fallen in love with and then either murdered, or left to die while singing. I feel this is a fair generalization, don’t @ me.

    I listened to the episode about Mr. Jose’s aria in Carmen (which is NOT one of the ones from Looney Tunes so I didn’t know it), with music journalist Anne Midgette on the panel, who I happen to know is a knitter. It was excellent! And then I listened to one about the Letter aria in Werther and I learned how to pronounce Werther. Thank you DG! I also love that the episodes are so short and you get to listen to the aria at the end.

    • Lol! You’re just listening to the tragedies. The comedies all end with people getting married. Kinda like Shakespeare.

  • Wow. Thank you!

  • I’m so relieved that you are fancy.

  • I didn’t know about this podcast, so thank you! That image of Fleming and the late, great, and totally god-like Dmitri Hvorostovsky inspires me to run into the living and room queue up the final scene of Onegin on my Met on Demand app. There’s not much that gets to me more than that scene with those two artists.

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