Friday, October 29, 2010

Clique Claque

Dear AriaGirl:
I was researching the premiere of Madama Butterfly and read that a claque was one of the main causes the opera wasn’t received well. Is that an opera term for a union strike?
Andrea C.

Dear Andrea:

After spending the entire morning not getting tired of how funny the word “claque” sounds, I got down to business. A claque (French for “clapping”), is a group of people paid to applaud (or boo, in some cases). People have been paid to appreciate the performance since Roman times, but it wasn’t until the 16th-century that the French poet Jean Daurat perfected the practice. He bought a bunch of tickets and gave them away in return for promised applause.

The concept really took off in Paris, where a company offered professional claqueurs. Soon, the practice became commonplace and developed an elaborate system of differing roles: from those paid to laugh, cry, request encores, and more. After the practice spread to Italy, singers were often contacted by the head of the claque and forced to pay a fee so they weren’t booed.

Fortunately for singers (and opera companies), the practice has largely fallen out of favor - especially after big names in opera - like Arturo Toscanini - discouraged it.

Got a question about opera? Send it in to

Ciao for now!

PS: Need a little Halloween fix? Try this classical music matching game from NPR!

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