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A mezzo records Mahler’s songs. With a man’s face on her album…

June 22, 2017 by norman lebrecht

36 comments.


The English mezzo-soprano Alice Coote has just released a set of three Mahler song cycles on the Dutch label Pentatone. I’m listening now and it’s very lovely. Tomorrow, I shall listen again.

But the cover shows a man’s face.

And he’s not even Mahler.

How do record labels reach these decisions?


Comments (36)

  1. Nik says:

    It’s a picture of the conductor, not some random man.
    But agreed, it’s a bit strange to show him and not her. Why not take a picture of the two of them?

    1. Olassus says:

      It is a mistake by PentaTone. If only one face is to be shown, then it should of course be the singer’s. It might be that funding (subsidy) came from the orchestra, which I think is Amsterdam’s opera orchestra in concert guise, and Marc Albrecht has a history of work with that company. Anyway a mistake — but there are so many bad (incompetent) album covers nowadays.

      1. Cato says:

        The NedPho, of which Marc Albrecht is chief conductor is a frequent part of DNO’s performances, but we have no house orchestra. Orchestras are engaged on a production basis; maestro Albrecht is concurrently chief conductor of DNO. Haven’t heard this recording yet, but am looking forward to it…

        1. Marty Vidnovic says:

          This would be Cato The Youngest, yes? Smiley Face.

      2. Jonathon Higgins says:

        As Cato says, the NedPho are not DNO’s house orchestra, they are a highly respected symphonic orchestra in their own right, who also play several times a year with DNO. Norman Lebrecht incorrectly states that ‘Alice Coote has just released a set of three Mahler song cycles on the Dutch label Pentatone.’ The Nedpho have just released a set of three Mahler song cycles (part of a series of Mahler recordings that the orchestra has released), and Alice Coote was the singer they invited to record them with them. She is a regular guest with the orchestra and a wonderful singer, and I encourage you all to go out and buy the CD. As to the CD cover, is it such a crime to have a picture of the orchestra’s principal conductor on the front? I’m not sure I have an opinion one way of the other, though this whole article seems to me to be a lot of fuss over nothing. I’m sure the majority of people who would buy the CD don’t really pay that much attention to the picture and are far more interested in the contents of the CD. Interesting to note that in the album covers featured on this blog, two feature the conductors (Bernstein & Boulez) and two feature the singers (Hampson & Baker). http://www.talkclassical.com/22317-mahler-song-cycles-looking.html

        1. Olassus says:

          Thanks for the link. The Boulez uses three singers, and the Bernstein is part of an LB series.

          Still, we use the word “accompany” for a reason.

          Sony might have seen higher sales touting Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (in his prime)! But who knows.

          1. Jonathon Higgins says:

            You can look through 274 covers of albums featuring Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen and other song cycles here!!

            https://www.discogs.com/search/?q=lieder+eines++fahrenden+gesellen&type=all

            It’s true that conductors don’t feature that often on the front covers, it’s quite an even spread between pictures of Mahler, the featured singer, or art work featuring neither. Strangely I’ve never been particularly interested in the choice of cover for a CD, but for vinyl it seemed far more important.

  2. Nick Durrant says:

    I dunno why they chose Marc Albrecht over Alice Coote Norman, but I can tell you that we as the Netherlands Philharmonic are very proud of the recording.

  3. Martin says:

    Very rude. But LOL.

  4. Thomasina says:

    But did Ms.Coote agree with this picture? I think it’s no doubt that she saw it in advance.

    1. SDG says:

      I think she’s vey modest and retiring, off stage, and may well not wanted to make any sort of fuss.

    2. Andrew Powell says:

      Thomasina, you would be surprised. Unless an artist has it written into the contract that they will be consulted on album-cover design, they will likely not even get a courtesy look at it before release. This is true for major artists as well. I once fought (successfully) to get a major but ugly conductor’s face on a cover, and the record company was simply indignant, irked, that it would even be asked such a huge favor. The image it adopted was monochrome!

    3. Una says:

      Doubt it, Thomasina! She’s be more concerned about her next concert and her family!

  5. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    He looks great! At least much better than a fat female singer anyway.
    Music making is a one man show.

    1. Dr Gradus says:

      Your first comment would be beneath contempt in any discussion, musical or otherwise.

      And as to your second, if you truly believe that you know nothing about music. Why are you here?

    2. Bruce says:

      Go back under your bridge.

    3. Steve P says:

      She is a big gal, but definitely not fat. Extremely odd not to feature her at all on cover art.

      1. Una Barry says:

        She’s not big! I know her!

    4. Alexander Davidson says:

      What an odd comment, completely out of keeping with Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer’s previous Slipped Disc comments, several of which have been concerned with the profile of female conductors and composers and with male domination of the music industry in general. This ignorant, misogynistic, body-shaming comment seems to be quite out of character. My guess is that is was a failed attempt at satirising the kind of discussions that perhaps lie behind the final choice of cover art.

      1. Una Barry says:

        Perhaps I’ve missed the humour and satire, but a smiley would have helped if that were the case.

        1. Bruce says:

          A smiley would probably not have helped, but possibly putting “/eyeroll” or “/s” (for “sarcasm”) at the end of the post might have.

          There’s something called “the Poe effect,” where no matter how outrageous and not-to-be-taken-seriously you make your remarks, someone will nevertheless take it seriously. (As an example: I once posted a comment on an article about unions and contracts — not here — saying that contracts are just a sop to workers to get them to agree to do the work. Once the work is done, you can just say you don’t have the money, and you don’t have to pay them what you promised. It’s almost as good as slavery. That got some responses from people who, while not at all bothered by the idea of management breaking a contract, thought I was truly in favor of slavery. And this was on a forum where I’m a regular contributor and — I thought — people were familiar with my views.)

    5. Una says:

      What on earth are you trying to say, Analeck? Or are you in fact on another planet? Just don’t understand your rather strange comments, to put it mildly.

    6. Richard Wiegold says:

      HI! Alice Coote is a personal friend of mine. She is an absolutely gorgeous woman, always has been, always will be. But would she be any less great a singer if she weren’t so attractive? Absolutely not. As it happens, Alice isn’t fat, but many great singers have been….they are like people that way.

    7. sarah says:

      What the hell is wrong with you? You clearly know nothing of opera and singers and common decency or anything else requiring intelligence. Why spout a nasty comment based on a prejudiced, ignorant assumption? You also clearly know nothing about the amazing Alice Coote. Just shut up and listen to the music.

    8. norman lebrecht says:

      This comment should not have got past our moderators, who are trained to eradicated abuse. We apologise for its original inclusion. We have, however, decided to leave it up for two reasons – to show the continued prevalence of such appalling attitudes and because several of our readers have sprung to the defence of this beautiful and courageous singer.

    9. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      Folks! I would like to sincerely apologize if my unthought-through and unwisely formulated comment made you uncomfortable and confused. But please get my point right in the first place before getting mad at me, ok?

      For God’s sake! I was not saying Ms. Coote was a fat singer! I have her CD with Julius Drake and deeply admire her Lieder interpretation. She is featured on the CD cover so of course I know how does she look like. She is gorgeous and in good shape, has obviously nothing to do with “fat”! So why did you guys think that I was referring to her? What I wanna say was that it didn’t disturb me a bit to have a male conductor on the cover, at least it would be better than featuring a female singer who was not in good shape, which unfortunately happened all too often in the past.

      Now people may accuse me of my dislike of fat singers. Jeez, nowadays you can always, really always, make someone feel offended, no matter what you say and how innocent your intention was. To make it clear, I have absolutely nothing against overweighted singers concerning their SINGING! Au contraire, I have always been enjoying hearing them on CDs. But I do have to agree with Donald Judd’s belief that

      Visual art is VISUAL.

      And in my opinion, cover art on CDs is visual art, opera performance is (among others) visual art. Folks, ask yourself honestly, did you really never feel a degree of unease when seeing a heavyweight Sieglinde, Isolde or Elsa? Needless to say, this also apply to male singers! You just can’t take a Siegmund seriously if his visual appearance is in stark contradiction to what he is telling about himself, right?

      While I strongly believe that no one should be discriminated solely because of their visual appearance, I do think that it is not outrageous to insist performing artists and cover girls alike to fulfil certain minimum requirements which are greatly relevant to their profession. Professional football players must keep themselves in good shape. Models and movie actors also. I can’t understand why singers should be exempted from such kind of professionalism and self discipline.

      Yes, I know nothing of opera and singers. But I do know that many of the top-notch singers nowadays not only sing well but also look great, like Anja Harteros, Juliane Banse, Anne Sofie von Otter. And of course, Alice Coote 😉

      1. Bruce says:

        Well, seeing as how you referred to a “fat female singer” and Alice Coote is the only singer in this conversation, it seems understandable that people would think you were referring to her.

        1. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

          OK, that was my fault. I am really sorry about the confusion. But geez, why do people so easily get irritated these days? This is a classical music gossip site, not a Brexit debate forum. Just sit back and relax.

          The saddest thing is that whenever they read a “strange” comment, they seem to always assume that the poster is vicious and mean in the first place. Folks, this is not cool. Please try to communicate before judge, all right? In most of the time, the poster is just stupid and has a hard time struggling with grammar and spelling to express his true intention. Not everybody has the privilege to get a proper education.

          Did you folks never struggle with any foreign languages, especially with some of the fine nuances in terms of cultural taboos? For non native speakers, even some of the curse words sound much much milder. You guys in the school never had one of your best friends with a nickname about “fat”? I thought everyone had such lovely buddies…

          If it is not OK to call someone fat, then what is the proper word to say? I don’t want to offend people without even being aware of it! Jesus Christ ….

          While I will never judge a singer’s vocal and artistic quality solely upon his/her body shape, but in many performances, people like me who are completely ignorant of opera are often irritated and confused by the visual appearance of the performers on stage, because what they see is completely incompatible with what the performers are singing and supposed to act. Several years ago there was even a BBC documentary talking about why are opera singers so fat. So it seems to be a common and sincere question by ordinary folks, without any negative connotation.

          Could any experts here give a for the average Joe understandable explanation? And when I flip through some of those historic photos of opera scenes, it seems that it was not always so … There was a opera singer called Lisa della Casa, who looked in the photo just like one of those top-notch Hollywood stars, but with more grace and elegance. Is it true that she is widely considered the perfect Arabella? I really doubt that she would still get this title if she were in a more “typical” opera singer body shape. Was she also an unsurpassable fine singer?

      2. Marty Vidnovic says:

        Analeck, nice try but I think you just dug yourself in deeper with your well meaning but circumlocutional clarification of the “fat” comment. “Circumlocutional clarification”?! Is that even acceptable locution?! Well, at least it was alliterational. Alliterational?! You mean alliterative? Hey, I’m interrogating myself. Anyway, I look forward to hearing Ms Coote sing the Mahler.

    10. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      Concerning “music making is a one man show”.

      I sincerely admit that I know nothing about music, but at least I do realize the fact that producing such an Orchesterlieder CD would need much more manpower than just a soloist and a conductor. There are the producer, the recording engineers and other administrative and management staffs, not to mention to lovely orchestra musicians who actually played the most part of the score!

      However, how many times you see a CD (especially when it is first out at full price) featuring a single person on the cover (and more often than not, he/she is not the composer!), although the repertoire inside, may it be a Gurrelieder, Varèse’s Amériques or Messiaen’s La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ etc., involves a huge team of highly talented and hard-working people, musicians and technical staffs alike, whose contribution was nothing less significant than that of the cover hero. But as we all know, it’s a one man show. It would simply sell better with a “star” on the cover. It’s all about business. So please take it easy, folk.

      But what made me really sad was the fact that people were just eloquently arguing about whether the soloist singer or the conductor should be put on the cover and thought that they were Moralapostel who defend the weak and the discriminated. Hey, what about the producer and the Tonmeister, the truly neglected heroes?! They also deserve a cover story, at least ONCE, right? But unfortunately, that never happened, not a single time in the recording history, so far as I know. They don’t even have a photo and bio in the booklet.

      I am generally against featuring people on the cover art of any classical recordings. Firstly, it is simply arrogant to put a performer instead of the composer on the cover, if there has to be a cover hero. Secondly, it is always visually (MUCH) more appealing to have carefully curated graphic arts (painting, non-portrait photography, graphics design or even simply well-designed pure text) on the cover than portrait photos of stars. Give me a counterexample if you have one. That’s one of the reason why I like ECM. As far as I know, they never put an artist photo on the covers of their classical (not jazz) recordings, no matter how big the names were. Please correct me if I am wrong. But at least I found none in the two books about their cover art, “Windfall Light” and “Sleeves of Desire”.

      1. Marty Vidnovic says:

        Analeck, I dint (yes, ‘dint’) read your entire comment (I’m slow) but it seems you made a point of saying that music making is a one man show, and then went on to describe all the people involved in making it. I don’t get your point of view. Is it metaphorical? Or satirical? Or I don’t get your humor? Anyway, I think you mean well … but I’m not sure, now that was humor, I was kidding you, just so you know. I’ve heard Alice Coote and I admire her singing and love Mahler so I’ll get the CD. That’s prolly the only part of my comment that’ll get past the editors. Smiley Face.

  6. Ian Sharman says:

    The release of any CD or DVD featuring Alice Coote is a wonderful addition to the collection of recorded music and is to be welcomed. However the personal comments in this thread fail me; those who have made them are beneath contempt. Shame on you.

  7. John humphreys says:

    I guess it’s Analeck’s attempt at rough humour but with a name like that why bother – the comedy is contained therein. As to the cd cover – of course the wonderful Alice Coote’s photo should be there. A bit like having a recording of the Busoni Piano Concerto with the image of the conductor only gracing the cover.

  8. Marty Vidnovic says:

    Oh … “music making is a one man show”, and there’s one man on the album cover, now I get it!

  9. Kent-Brown says:

    Maybe Alice has the answer as to why she doesn’t grace the cover of this album..It would certainly be what we would have preferred but only Alice has the secret .The wordsmiths here are all making assumptions.

  10. Marty Vidnovic says:

    I agree with Nik’s comment at the top of the thread. And Cato … do you pronounce that with the Anglicized ‘Cayto’ or the classical Latin ‘Kahto’ …


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