Houses & Companies | The Claque | High Romantic | Opera
The claque, a French word for ‘slap’ or ‘clap’, was a crowd of supporters hired by composers, impresarios or performers to work up enthusiasm for an opera or, alternatively, sabotage the work of rivals. Most professional claques were indistinguishable from the rest of the audience and flourished more in France and Italy than they did in Germany and England, but the tradition still existed. It was put on to commercial lines in France in 1820 when a certain entrepreneur named Sauton opened a claque agency named L’assurance des succès dramatiques – (‘Assurance of Dramatic Success’). Monsieur Sauton hired out chefs de claque – claque directors; tapageurs, who clapped energetically; connaisseurs, who specialized in shouts of approval; and pleurers, who carried hidden bottles of smelling salts to make themselves cry, apparently with emotion. Rates of pay varied, depending on the response being faked: in the High Romantic era, five francs were paid for ordinary applause, expressions of horror and guffaws, 12.5 francs for groans and 15 francs for renewed applause, murmurs of alarm and cries of amusement. Often, the chef de claque was invited to the dress rehearsal of an opera to make sure that his team performed these effects in the right places.
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