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What's that Verdi in 'S-Town'?

Andrea Bocelli performs ahead of the start of the UEFA Champions League final football match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at San Siro Stadium in May 2016. GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

The podcast S-Town — the latest release from the makers of Serial and This American Life — tells an utterly engrossing true story about a small town in Alabama. It almost instantly attained what the New York Times calls "podcasting blockbuster status," with 16 million episode listens in its first week alone.

If you haven't listened to the show, or haven't finished it, fear not: I won't divulge any surprises, except the one you already know if you read this post's headline. One of the interviewees, an older woman, turns out to be a fan of Giuseppe Verdi. She puts on an Andrea Bocelli CD ("that man's got a voice like an angel") when she gets blue, and it's Verdi that speaks to her most powerfully.

It's a somewhat surprising revelation, given that most locals, host Brian Reed tells us, favor country music. Even more surprising, though, is the aria we hear in Chapter V after Reed describes this woman's predilection: "La donna è mobile," from Rigoletto. It's the tune the Duke of Mantua sings about the flightiness of women — an incongruous message, given how this grandmother is described as a pillar of her family.

Later, we hear another Verdi aria: "O mio remorso!" from La Traviata. It plays under a litany of the ills of modern society, recited by one of the podcast's central subjects. In the aria, the character Alfredo is also bemoaning the state of things — although in Alfredo's case, he's mostly blaming himself. That's much more fitting than the earlier aria, in ways you'll understand when you've finished the podcast.

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