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Massenet's Werther – Aria Code Episode 9

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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.

The Guests

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard can handle many different roles – this season she's sung everything from Nico Muhly to Claude Debussy – but describes Charlotte as one of her most challenging. "The vocal writing is relentless," she says. "Massenet had a way of expressing a very deep understanding of Charlotte's complex struggle."

Pianist Mary Dibbern began her love affair with French opera began in Paris more than 30 years ago. Since then, she’s translated a biography of Jules Massenet and is currently the Music Director of Education for the Dallas Opera.

Minneapolis-based Peter Bognanni fell in love with his wife over email. He is also the author of Things I’m Seeing Without You, a modern-day story about two teens who fall in love over text messages and email.


Aria Code is a new 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.

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.

Hosted by Grammy Award-winner and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Rhiannon Giddens, Aria Code is produced by WQXR in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera. The team includes Merrin Lazyan, Brendan Francis Newnam, Matt Boynton, Ricardo Quiñones, Ania Grzesik, Khrista Rypl and Matt Abramovitz. Original music by Hannis Brown.

  • Massenet's Werther – Aria Code Episode 9

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