…got your attention?
Mhmm. I thought so.
I confess that I bought this recording because of the cover. The content is great, too (19th century duet literature), but honestly? That’s not why I bought it. I bought it because of Angelika Kirchschlager’s come-hither-look and Barbara Bonney’s smile. And for the closeness of the one to the other.
I’m used to the fact that the classical music market doesn’t target me (even though they should. I’d spend even more money on them!). The world of opera recordings and singer recitals is ultra het straight to the bone and I’ve always bought recordings for the content, not the smarmy tenors or romantic straight couple stills on the cover. For me, it’s about the voices anyway. It’s them I want to get together, that’s the kick, not the singers hinting at it on the cover.
But then, just sometimes, I get the strangest feeling that the recording companies actually know that I’m out here. That they consciously acknowledge the existence of the common opera dyke (like me) and wink at me with their covers as if they wanted to say “We know you’re there, and we know you’re going to buy this.” And right they are – more than once I’ve bought a recording just because the cover was not as straight as the other hundred titles around it.
Of course it might be that I misunderstand these covers and that it’s like falling through the rabbithole into the world of straight p*rn, where things that look kind of lesbianish are made by straight men for other straight men. On second thought (and looking again at the recording cover above – in case you missed it: it’s titled “First Encounter”) that is probably the case, but I don’t really care since other than in straight porn, the lesbianish elements appeal to me. Especially when it comes to the fortress of heterocentristic cover imaginery: THE DUET RECORDING.
We all know the classic montage cover of the 50s and 60s, evidenced here by Maria Callas and the late Giuseppe di Stefano. Note: 1) you always need both singers on the cover of a duet CD. 2) pick wavy romantic fonts to set the mood, especially when we’re talking 19th century.
The variations on this theme are endless – a little more sober for a collection of oratorio duets (and strangely reminiscent of 19th century family photo poses) like this Händel collection with Carolyn Sampson and Robin Blaze.
As soon as the duet collection is a love duet compilation, though, the covers become more suggestive – as a rule, there needs to be touching. Touchy = feely. Body contact is of matter, as if seeing the singers on the cover in a cuddly pose guarantees to make us feel cuddly, too, when we listen to the recording.
The most recent and most sold example of this trend is probably the cover of the Netrebko /Villazon duet recording -the somewhat coy pose implies the intimacy of a candid shot and plays with the promise to extend that same intimacy to the listener.
Latin Lover charms (oh the hair! oh the open collar!) with a bit of leaning onto gender archetypes? – Just ask the Italians, like in this classic cover design starring Daniela Dessì and Fabio Armiliato (extra points for the wildly passionate font – if that doesn’t scream romance, what does??)
A bit of romantic cuddling (mind the soulful, introverted looks) with your Belcanto Duets? – How about Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorgiu – although, since they are married to each other, I cannot begrudge them a cuddly cover.
Needless to say that gay images on duet recording covers don’t really happen. Most duet work is for soprano vs. tenor, and even when it comes to exceptions, I’m not sure they count… Bergonzi and Fischer-Dieskau, for example, don’t really conjure up a whole lot of subtext. Must be the lack of body contact…. or not?
Of course, I’m a lot more willing to read subtext into something when it involves two women, but even in this category, there are completely harmless entries…
…take for example the mentor/protégé duet recording Brigitte Fassbaender (irony of ironies!) did with Juliane Banse – honi soit qui mal y pense.
I am, however, not sure about this next example of the mentor/protégé genre, starring Edita Gruberova and Vesselina Kasarova — uuuh… did you also blink and look twice to make sense of it?
– You know, when fandom artists do ship artwork to have their favorite subtext pairing finally kiss in some way, it does actually look a lot like this at times. I’m just saying.
A similar technique (and a very intense gaze) is employed on the cover of the aptly named “Delirio” (it will drive you crazy with delight), the Händel recording featuring Natalie Dessay conducted by Emmmanuelle Haïm – feminist image critics would have a field day with this.
(So do I, but for completely different reasons.)
…who says that suggestive covers cannot also be a thing a of the past?? Any female duet recording containing Dvořák seems to be fair game…
…and how sweet exactly is the Sweet Power of Song? (other than reminiscent of the same 19th century family photo pose mentioned above)
The cover that really got me thinking, though (and that ultimately led me to write this post) was this:
A Händel duet recording featuring two female singers is a no-brainer for me – I’ll buy it, regardless of the cover. Especially if it features artists like Joyce DiDonato or Patrizia Ciofi. I didn’t buy this one for the artwork, I swear. It didn’t hurt, though. The recording is great and it also happened to be my first ever Joyce DiDonato album, so I will always be very fond of it. The cover itself seems to be taken out of a lesbian production of Orpheus (any version, take your pick), with Orpheus striding ahead and Eurydice following while they try not to look at each other. Very heroic.
The look, however, (and a nice flirtatious one at that) happens when you turn the CD around and study the back (click to enlarge documentary evidence).
If I hadn’t already been in the cashier line with my newfound treasure at this point, this would have sent me there for sure.
Interestingly enough, the CD features duets between a male and a female character; the CD artwork, however, shows both singers in dresses and clearly emphasizes their femininity. Since the concert convention for trouser roles is that the mezzo in question singer of the trouser role generally appears in pants, the CD cover threw me for a loop – male/female duets, but a female/female cover?
Of course, singers are not to be confused with the roles they embody in sound, but with how covers usually try to ‘set the mood’ for the recording (see Netrebko and Villazón above) the disregard for gender on this one surprised me (also, it made my opera dyke self very happy, but that goes without saying).
Opera covers, just like duet covers, usually go to great lengths to stage their lead singers in costume and striking a pose. The role has to be on the cover, not the singer. (unless we are talking Callas who could impersonate Norma just by changing her earrings)
Just in case you need an example… do you remember that dashing cover to BMG’s production of Bellini’s “I Capuleti e I Montecchi”? With Vesselina Kasarova as Romeo and Eva Mei as Juliet? …No? – Well, here it is, just in case (and if you do remember it, it sure won’t hurt to look at it again)
…and the back? …remember the back?
Although… that cleavage is not very masculine, now that I think about it. – When I wanted this CD for Christmas, I was 18. I was clueless. I thought I was straight. And yet I wanted the CD for the cover. It promised Romeo and Juliet, but with girls. For me, a happy ending.
An example of a dress up for a recital recording (and a great excuse to post the cover) is Jennifer Larmore’s trouser roles aria collection called – seriously! – “Call me Mister.” The cover is a film noir hommage down to the font, and it involves a pinstripe suit, a tie and a cigar. And me, drooling. And yes, I bought it for the cover. I obviously love it for its content, but that is not what caught my eye first.
Whatever the new genderqueer marketing stance on covers may be – dashing role image in pinstripes vs. female singers in dresses smiling at each other: it sounds like a win-win situation to me, and the suggestive possibilities are endless.
And I swear, they are teasing us. For example, I feel strangely compelled to buy this duet compilation with singers Ann Hallenberg and Ditte Anderson, and that’s before I have listened to any samples. I looked up the recording at the company’s website (Berlin Classics) and found the CD advertisded with the tagline: “between Andersen’s clear soprano and Hallenberg’s warm mezzo, they manage to explore all of love’s facets” – although I needed three times to grasp the sentence, I was distracted by the cleavages. Ehum. Anyway – suggestive much?!!
And even if it is only the latest marketing tool towards straight guys who like to look at two women together: I’ll be an happy opera dyke if, for once, I visibly get to believe that someone sings for me, specifically for ME, too.
So from now on I will simply smirk when I stumble across covers like this one:
…Did Tchaikovsky just get a little more soulful still?
And in favor of Marina Domashenko, whom I’ve only really seen so far as Carmen at the Staatsoper in Berlin: She can rock the 1920s Garçonne hairstyle, down to the sideburns.
But among all the recordings I dug up, Kirchschlager’s and Bonney’s “First Encounter” still wins the prize for the (intentional or not) most lesbianish cover art — the recording doesn’t just have a suggestive cover, no, there is also the back matter.
AND it contains more more images from the photo shoot inside the booklet.
So… what are your favorite subtext (or maintext) covers? Do you have any additions? And is Dvořák really the focal point of “Covers gone lesbian”?
And just for good measure, here are the remaining photos from “First Encounter”: