innopac

The Claque

48 posts in this topic

I have been reading a bit about the claque in Paris at the time of Chopin and was surprised to read the following which got me thinking and I would be interested to know what others thought about the role of the claque -- past and present.

Although some people considered the claque a corrupting influence on the opera and theater of its time, Theophile Gautier rose to its defense. "If the claqueurs were suppressed," he claimed, "the public would be shouting for their return within a week." Why? Because of the many benefits offered by the claque. For one thing, it gave encouragement to deserving new works that an uninformed audience might not appreciate at first. Furthermore, by delaying the failure of an expensive production, the claque protected jobs and allowed the work to gross some money before it closed. finally, the stimulation of the claque often whipped up the artists to perform better than they might have otherwise."
The Parisian worlds of Frederic Chopin
by William G Atwood. 1999. Page 210.

Bart has previously asked some interesting questions about the present day claque in Russia:

We have a number of posters familiar with ballet in Moscow and St. Petersburg today. Is the ballet scene today anything like that which existed in the 90s? Does the claque still exist? If things are better, what has happened to bring about the changes? How is truly creative work -- and the identification and advancement of talent -- possible in such an environment?

Thank you, Mikhail, Natalia, and all. I've heard of claques at La Scala in the past, but did not know how powerful they are in Russia. sad.gif

I have so many questions and hope some of you can answer at least some.

Since money seems to be central to their motivation and power, where does this money come from? Is there so much cash floating around in Russian ballet?

Do individual dancers have managers or protectors who can afford to pay for the claque's approval?

Why does the management of the theater permit it?

Have dancers -- especially those attacked by the claque -- ever spoken out or taken action against it?

How does the ordinary, regular ballet audience feel about this -- and respond to it when the claque is in action?

And finally (thanks for your patience): are there any notable examples of claque-like organization and behavior in theaters outside Russia today?

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Great questions, innopac. I'm also curious as to how large the present day claque is, and when one last existed in Paris. Why did it die out there?

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I found a short 1886 NY Times piece on the Vienna claque of the time.

The Vienna Fremdenblatt has been revealing the secrets of the organized club or "claquers," in whose hands the failure or fortune of a new singer or dancer often rests, and whose favor is eagerly sought and readily paid for by the older members of the opera and the ballet. Fifteen ladies of the court opera, 18 male singers, and 10 of the principal dancers of the ballet have owned that they have regularly paid to the "chief of the claque" a percentage of their monthly receipts averaging from 5 to 50 gulden apiece.

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Fascinating kfw :) Thanks!

Atwood also says the following (The Parisian worlds of Frederic Chopin. Page 210.):

"At the Comique the chief claqueuer, Albert, was even more stringent in his demands [than Auguste at the Opera], insisting that the public be kept out of all first-night productions."

"Although its virtues were dubious, the claque persisted in an organized form until the last quarter of the nineteenth century."

See also this quote from the book. Fanny Elssler is mentioned.

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I wish someone would pay me to clap for them!

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I would also be interested to hear more on the role, if any, of claques in contemporary performance. I have no experience of claques myself.

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I would be amazed if anyone would reveal anything about current claque behaviour. Social networking with stars (really their PR agents) via the web and Facebook gives people the impression of personal contact and they repay this by unrestrained applause. Personal contact with artists was as important to the traditional claques as any fee. Many fans are so partisan and emotive that I doubt that any formal organisation for specific appearances is required. The 'greeting' applause for the first appearance, and the mandatory standing ovation for routine performances is partly a wish to pay respect and part claque behaviour. We have all sat in audiences at times wondering why applause could be so intense for so little artistry.

In his memoirs 5000 Nights at the Opera, Rudolf Bing, the GM of the Met. for 22 years, describes his struggles with the claque. He hired a claqueur himself once, after he had fired Maria Callas from the 1958-59 season, and replaced her with Leonie Rysanek in Macbeth. The claqueur was instructed to call 'Bravo Callas' into the audience at an angle to prevent Rysanek from hearing it. This motivated the audience -who had hoped to hear Callas- to support Rysanek. Bing claims she rose to the occasion with a magnificent performance.

Bing also limited opportunities for the claque by forbidding solo bows. I became aware of how the choreography of curtain calls and bows can restrain audiences at a Ballet Gala in Vienna recently. This was to mark the retirement of Gyula Harangozo, the Director of the Vienna Opera Ballet. The range of work presented was extraordinary wide, ranging from Le Corsaire, Coppelia, and Sleeping Beauty, through pieces by Balanchine, Forsythe, Petit, MacMillan to Alvin Ailey. There were dances to the music of Queen and Jacques Brel. (The Brel song 'Les Bourgeois' was choreographed by Ben van Cauwenbergh in 1993. It is available on a DVD called Divine Dancers: Live from Prague). Most of the soloists were from the Vienna Opera Ballet but guests included Polina Semionova and Alina Cojocaru, Linda Celeste Sims, Matthew Rushing, Noah Gelber, and Johan Kobborg. Every soloist received their applause in exactly the same way and none of them hung around milking it. The performances were for Harangozo and the artists were big enough to stand back. I was impressed at their discipline.

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I became aware of how the choreography of curtain calls and bows can restrain audiences at a Ballet Gala in Vienna recently.
A very interesting observation. It takes a "Bing" figure to do this, I would imagine. And it can't be done only once. As in educating children, repetition and consistency are important. It will take time to re-educate the audience as well as the claqueurs.

Marcmomus, did you hear of any feedback from the performers themselves. What do they think about this approach?

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Thank you for the great anecdotes, Marcmomus, and for that excellent point about social networking. Although today in the West, claques are out of fashion, some ABT dancers have official sponsors. And at least one, Veronika Part, has what we might call her own unofficial and self-appointed but professional husband and wife claque team, James Wolcott of Vanity Fair, and Laura Jacobs of Vanity Fair and the New Criterion. (That's probably stretching the definition too far out of shape, because they're unpaid and their admiration is honest and deserved, but they're an interesting case).

Here is an unsigned BBC article, The Claque - Art Appreciation Or Pest?.

Toward the end of the 19th Century, the claque began to lose favour. The fashion of the day turned toward a more quiet, respectful audience. A German etiquette book of the time admonishes the audience to refrain from laughing or crying openly, from commenting to its neighbours, and from clapping too loudly, noting that silence often honours an artist more than wild applause. It also remarks that one must not hiss at a performance one doesn't like - 'Letzteres ist höchstens dann gestattet, wenn es gilt, eine aufdringliche Claque in ihre Grenzen zu verweisen' - 'the latter is only permissible when it is needed to put a pushy claque in its place'.

The new concert etiquette was developed partly at the behest of conductors like Arturo Toscanini. While Richard Wagner instructed his audience not to make distracting noises at a concert held in Bayreuth in 1882, Gustav Mahler actively discouraged claques, going so far as to specify in the score of the Kindertotenlieder that there was to be no applause during the movements. Theatres soon followed suit, and claques all but disappeared. Their last stronghold was the opera, where the normal rules don't apply anyway, with singers frequently being applauded immediately after their solos, despite the music and chorus continuing.

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Thank you for that link, kfw. The article is really well-done. I was surprised to learn how organized the claque business was in the 19th century, with serious division of labor: commissaiares (to point out the interesting bits), rieurs (especially good at laughing), pleurers (good at weeping), and bisseurs (specialists at obtaining encores). Being a chef de claque seems to have been a very demanding and time-consuming responsibility.

I hadn't reallized that the heyday of claques required the audience to be serious performers, just as accomplished as the the actors, singers, and dancers they cheered or vilified.

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Here is a passage about the difficulties conductors faced when attempting to navigate through the pressures from balletomanes, claques and internal company politics. I imagine Telyakovsky was thinking about Kschessinska when he wrote this.

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Great passage. Thanks, innopac. It certainly sounds as though the claquers in their heyday created almost as much (or more?) excitement than the performers on stage.

Anyone else have good claque stories -- either in the form of links or from your own experience?

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The claque in Moscow is vile, taking backhanders and blackmailing dancers to pay up or risk disruption of their performances. I've seen them in action and they are scum.

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I would also be interested to hear more on the role, if any, of claques in contemporary performance. I have no experience of claques myself.

Not by the classic definition of claque-(wher money is the key point)-but somehow related. In Havana I had the opportunity to hang with a group of friends/balletomanes, who took their passion very seriously. They would go to their favorite ballerina's rival performances just to openly sabotage them, usually making loud comments and laughing during variations. One night the group boss-(to whom I still exchange e-mails :tomato: )-thought of a new device to show his dislike for the other ballerina, and in the middle of a variation, pulled a cop whistle out-(a real one, BTW)- and proceeded to use it, for what looked like an eternity, veeery loud. I was shocked, and just wanted to bury myself down the chair.

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I remember while performing a two week season in Barcelona,at the Liceo theatre, every night there were a group of people(about the third balcony) screaming Bravo, clapping very loudly for every single ballet. I think it was a claque because they always were in that same section every night. Perhaps connected to the theatre, I don't really know. It sounds silly to say but it was very encouraging for us to hear the applause, since those tours could be pretty grueling.

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Thanks innopac for starting this topic and for the links. The description of claquers being better behaved in France than England cited a very interesting point of difference! Here's a portrait of the type by Balzac from an old copy of Cousin Bette (Cousin Betty) translated by Ellen Marriage.

She got to know a claqueur, madame, saving your presence, a man paid to clap, you know, the grand-nephew of an old mattress-picker of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. This good-for-nought, as all your good-looking fellows are, paid to make a piece go, is the cock-of-the walk out on the Boulevard du Temple, where he worked up the new plays, and takes care that the actresses get a reception, as he calls it. First, he has a good breakfast in the morning; then before the play, he dines, to be ‘up to the mark,’ as he says; in short, he is a born lover of billiards and brandy ... He was very near being nabbed by the police in a tavern where thieves meet. Monsieur Braulard, the leader of the claque, got him out of that. He wears gold earrings, and lives by doing nothing, hanging on to women, who are fools for good-looking scamps ... Cousin Betty translated by Ellen Marriage

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It sounds silly to say but it was very encouraging for us to hear the applause, since those tours could be pretty grueling.

It doesn't sound silly at all, duffster. Thanks for posting and providing another perspective.

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From an NY Times article on an upcoming Sting performance at the Met :

If the story is to be believed, there’s some schadenfreude to be found in a tale that Sting tells about being booed the first time he performed at an opera house. It was in 1987, as Sting recounted recently, that he stepped onstage to sing “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” with the Hamburg State Orchestra, and he noticed “a group of people, all with blue and gray hair, and jewels and fur,” who were jeering him before he’d opened his mouth.

This gang, he learned after finishing his song, was a claque that expected to be paid for its applause, and most assuredly was compensated for the cheers it delivered for his second number that night.

If any claques remain at the Metropolitan Opera, Sting said with a chuckle: “I’m paying them, believe me. Out of my own pocket.”

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From reading opera singer bios, there are references to claques in the Italian Opera Houses through the mid 20th century. The transactions were a bit subtle as the years went on, I recall Tito Gobbi or some other singer of the era describing the transaction as follows "OK, so you (leader of claque) will take all your freinds out before the performance and have a coffee on me. And then come back and enjoy the performance". Often it wasn't so much that the singers were paying for applause so much that they were looking not to be booed. If you don't pay=booing, sort of like buying "insurance" from the mob.

One story Gobbi tells which is actually sort of charming is of a performance of Barber of Seville in an Italian house, probably ca 1940 where he sang Figaro to the aging but much loved tenor Tito Schipa. Gobbi sang a number which was vigorously applauded. He was a bit startled at how enthusiastic the reception was, it was more than he was expecting.

After the performance he discussed it with Schipa, feeling very good about the whole thing and then Schipa gently and graciously explained what had transpired. Schipa had a section to sing after Gobbi's piece and found the section a bit high for his, ah, mature voice to manage. So he had the music transposed and paid the claque to applaud Gobbi for an extended length of time so that several minutes elapsed. This way the bump of the key transposition would be less obvious. This was sort of an "everyone wins" kind of situation.

I think a paid claque hasn't been a part of the Met opera for a long time, if it was ever really a presence. But there are vigorous fan groups

were active through the mid 20th century. And while cash often didn't get passed, payments of kind did. I recall as a real newbie hearing ca 1970 from fans of the Italian mezzo Fiorenza Cossotto that the diva would gather up her fan group and invite them over to her apartment for a special lasagna dinner. This of course made the fans feel even more generous to their star and even more vigorous in their applause.

But I've always felt this kind of manufactured effects, whether positive or negative, was pretty disruptive. And the fans could be vindictive.

After Maria Callas' sudden, unexpected death in the late 70s, many of her colleagues were interviewed as to their memories and thoughts on the diva.

Most of course were very reverential. But not all. Renata Scotto, always very outspoken, chose to share her memory of making a recording of Cherubini's Medea twenty years earlier. Scotto explained that the conductor wanted to cut a section of MEdea's music and Callas wasn't happy with his decision. Per Scotto, Callas suggested cutting Glauce's(the role Scotto was singing) music instead. "Why she want to do something bad to me?" Scotto wailed.

The Callas fans, alreading in mourning over the passing of their beloved diva, were relentless. The next time Scotto sang a telecast from the Met (they were live in those days), a very well organized demonstration of boos greeting Scotto's first entrance in the opera. And there were other demonstrations disrupting Scotto performances over the next few years. When Scotto sang her first Norma (Callas' most famous role) at the Met, she was booed relentlessly by the Callas widows. But Scotto was tough and let it roll off her back like a pro.

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Thank you so much for that, richard53dog. I loved the Schipa story :)

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In Seattle Opera's Jonathan Dean's delightful "Spotlight Guide" for "The Barber of Seville", Dean writes,

And opening night, at Rome's Teatro Argentina in 1816, was an unmitigated disaster. In addition to the tenor with a bloody nose and the unexplained cat wandering around the stage, and anti-Rossini claque in the audience booed, jeered, and hollered all the way through the performance. The claque was furious that someone would dare write an opera on The Barber of Seville when Giovanni Paisiello had already written a popular opera upon that play back in 1793. But after the first performance, Rossini's masterpiece left Paisiello's work forever in the the dust.

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Has anyone read Robertson Davies' "The Lyre of Orpheus"? In it, Maria's mother and uncle arrange a claque for a production of an opera sponsored by the Cornish Foundation, and some of the issues mentioned in the Times article are similar, particularly in leading people who aren't sure when to clap because they are unfamiliar with the piece.

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Thanks, abatt, for reviving this thread and for that fascinating link. The article is balanced as to the positives and negatives of claqueur culture. I was rather appalled though, by Mr. Abramov's sense of humor:

“I would love to pour a ton of acid on her head,” he remarked cheerily about a critic who had offended one of his favorites.

This throws light on something reported on one of our Bolshoi threads yesterday: that 30% of respondants to a question about the acid attack on Sergei Filin felt that throwing acid wasn't such a big deal. "Fanatics," indeed (to use a term embraced by Mr. Abramov).

On the other hand, it is nice to hear that Abramov has, since experiencing a heart attack, given up encouraging his claques to disrupt the performances of out-of-favor dancers.

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Thanks, abatt, for reviving this thread and for that fascinating link. The article is balanced as to the positives and negatives of claqueur culture. I was rather appalled though, by Mr. Abramov's sense of humor:

“I would love to pour a ton of acid on her head,” he remarked cheerily about a critic who had offended one of his favorites.

This throws light on something reported on one of our Bolshoi threads yesterday: that 30% of respondants to a question about the acid attack on Sergei Filin felt that throwing acid wasn't such a big deal. "Fanatics," indeed (to use a term embraced by Mr. Abramov).

On the other hand, it is nice to hear that Abramov has, since experiencing a heart attack, given up encouraging his claques to disrupt the performances of out-of-favor dancers.

I just finished reading this article, and boy was it enlightening. I still cannot believe Abramov made an "acid" joke.

I wonder, are claques only in the Russian theatres, or do any of them travel with the companies when they go on tour?

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