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The Claque


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#16 Quiggin

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Posted 12 July 2010 - 09:49 PM

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



#17 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 03:35 AM

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.

#18 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 04:58 AM

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.”



#19 richard53dog

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:33 AM

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.

#20 Helene

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 09:17 PM

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

#21 Helene

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Posted 24 July 2010 - 10:10 AM

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.



#22 abatt

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Posted 14 August 2013 - 06:25 PM

Here is a fascinating article on the claques at the Bolshoi from the NYTimes. 

 

  

http://www.nytimes.c...r.html?ref=arts



#23 Helene

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Posted 14 August 2013 - 11:28 PM

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.



#24 bart

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 05:10 AM

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.



#25 ABT Fan

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 09:45 AM

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?



#26 Helene

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 09:55 AM

The people described in this article get tickets and passes in return for being part of the claque. If they can't afford the regular prices for tickets, I suspect they aren't following the company on tour. However, there may be pick-up claques in other cities, perhaps company followers who live abroad.

#27 Buddy

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 10:56 AM

 I've not followed this topic, but having been to nine Mariinsky Festivals in a row I'll offer some quick observations. First I've hardly noticed any of it. One Mariinsky 'secondary' soloist (?) artist does seem to have a claque 'supporter', which for me really detracts from the artist's superior performances. Another absolutely brilliant guest artist from the Bolshoi always has a 'claque' in toe, once again detracting considerably from the performance. (This could be an effort by a claque to detract from the performance, but this artist at least once voiced approval of claque support, so I don't think so.)

 

Again, I've noticed very little of it at the Mariinsky. 



#28 Drew

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 01:30 PM

 I've not followed this topic, but having been to nine Mariinsky Festivals in a row I'll offer some quick observations. First I've hardly noticed any of it. One Mariinsky 'secondary' soloist (?) artist does seem to have a claque 'supporter', which for me really detracts from the artist's superior performances. Another absolutely brilliant guest artist from the Bolshoi always has a 'claque' in toe, once again detracting considerably from the performance. (This could be an effort by a claque to detract from the performance, but this artist at least once voiced approval of claque support, so I don't think so.)

 

Again, I've noticed very little of it at the Mariinsky. 

Very interesting Buddy. According to Abramov--whose perfect honesty is not, I think, to be counted on--it isn't happening at the Mariinsky.  He seems to say pretty directly that that is why the applause at the Marriinsky (again, according to him) is so tepid compared to the applause at the Bolshoi!

 

Alas, unlike Buddy, Natalia, and others, I have almost always seen the Mariinsky on tour, but the few audiences I have heard at the Mariinsky theater were pretty tepid. Except, to some extent, for Lopatkina. Which certainly didn't feel like claquers. (Of course I'm a huge fan. Free tickets to cheer for Lopatkina? If you'll forgive the vulgarity, that sounds sort of like Demi Moore getting a million dollars to sleep with Robert Redford.)

 

[Edited to add that I know I'm fortunate to be able to afford to see ballet if only occasionally])

 

I will say I heard one very loud and isolated BRAVO shouted for the Von Rothbart of Andre Soloviev after his initial leaping sequence.  (I'm getting the name from someone else's report, since my program is packed away.) The "bravo" was so isolated and so loud I did wonder even at the time if it was coming from a paid supporter, but prefered to think it was simply a wild fan . . . or family member.

 

Though indeed in Abramov's account, the claquers are in their way also wild (if corrupt) fans. But if we give him the last word, then it's a Bolshoi problem.  Goodness knows, the Mariinsky--as great as it is--has its own problems.



#29 Swanilda8

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 02:05 PM

Great article.  This explains a lot about the applause at the Bolshoi - which can go on for a while and have lots of 'bravos!' (often coming from the same section of the theater every time).  It doesn't seem to be a problem to me as long as they're not disruptive. I wish I could have been part of the claque - Bolshoi tickets are crazy expensive.



#30 volcanohunter

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Posted 15 August 2013 - 02:31 PM

The acid reference is unfortunate, but this paints a less malignant picture than I would have feared, especially after Ratmansky referred to said claque as "disgusting." As Drew says, they're "wild (if corrupt) fans." And I can understand where they're coming from, because I often take it upon myself to lead applause during performances. If I'm positioned properly, I'll usually be the one to start applause for the conductor when he or she enters the pit, and during the performance mine is usually the last clapping you hear when the applause dies away, unless the music has already resumed. I'm very sympathetic to the situation of the male dancer during a pas de deux, so I'll try to applaud for as long as possible after the adage in the hopes of helping him to catch his breath before his variation. And if I happen to be more familiar with an opera than others in the audience, I try to applaud in the "correct" places. I can't really do much effective hollering because I'm not very loud.

 

No one rewards me with free tickets or anything else, and I do the same things irrespective of who's performing, but on some level I understand the instinct of these claquers to support their favorites in this way.




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