Scott Simon

In this time of social distancing, hunkering down and chatting remotely, we might learn some new things about each other. For example, you might know Marin Alsop as the longtime music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading figures in classical music around the world and a frequent guest on Weekend Edition. But you might not know that back in the 1980s, she also led a swing band.

At the height of the Cold War in 1958, Van Cliburn, a curly-headed kid from Texas, won the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He was hugged by Nikita Khrushchev and heralded like Elvis Presley when he returned.

Christine Goerke is focused on endurance. The dramatic soprano is tackling one of the most challenging roles in opera: singing Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie maiden warrior, in Richard Wagner's epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen, at New York's Metropolitan Opera. Otherwise known as the Ring cycle, the 16-hour saga spans four operas and tells the story of gods, monsters, humans and an insatiable urge to own an all-powerful golden ring.

Some of the great roles for sopranos are often compellingly fragile — and disarmingly forceful – women: Gilda, the favored daughter in Rigoletto; Violeta, the doomed love in La Traviata.

Charity Tillemann-Dick has sung those roles onstage, but her greatest role may be her own life. She is one of 11 brothers and sisters of a Mormon-Jewish family, and was studying at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music when she was diagnosed with a debilitating and ultimately fatal lung disease.