What she did during the interval: The dancer Mercandotti and a ‘young man of large fortune’
On 8 March 1823, the Spanish dancer, Mademoiselle Mercandotti was due to dance for a packed house in a performance of Daniel Auber’s ballet, Alfred. The audience were expectant: Mercandotti, who had arrived for the 1822-1823 season, had been dubbed ‘The Andalusian Venus’, and the manager of the King’s Theatre, John Ebers (c. 1785-c. 1830), ‘was pestered from morning to night by young men of fashion anxious to obtain an introduction.’ But when the moment came she failed to appear, and manager Ebers came on stage to announce her indisposition. But it was later revealed that she had in fact eloped to Gretna Green with a ‘young man of large fortune’, revealed to be the immensely wealthy Hughes Balls Hughes (1799-1863), nicknamed the ‘Golden Ball.’ As Walter Scott commented, ‘few events in the fashionable world have excited more attention’, and it became one of the great scandals of the age. How the whole thing was accomplished remains obscure, although it is clear from his presence (together with Lord Fife) as a witness at the wedding, that Ebers must have been involved.
This paper returns to these events, examining the circumstances of the elopement and its place in Mercandotti’s career and its position in the history of the King’s Theatre and its dancers. In particular, it will focus on the work of the caricaturists, to whom the event offered a ‘golden’ opportunity to satirize this particular theatrical event.
Michael Burden is Professor in Opera Studies at the University of Oxford, and Chair of the Music Faculty Board, and is Fellow in Music at New College, where he is also Dean. His published research is on the theatre music of Henry Purcell, on the staging of opera and dance in London in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and the administration of the Pyne-Harrison and English Opera Companies. His study of the soprano Regina Mingotti’s London years and his five-volume collection of opera documents, London Opera Observed, were both published in 2013, and a new volume - edited with Jennifer Thorp - entitled The works of Monsieur Noverre translated from the French: Noverre, his circle, and the English Lettres sur la danse appeared in 2014. He is Past President of the British Society for 18th-century Studies, a trustee of RISM, and director of productions of New Chamber Opera, www.newchamberopera.co.uk. He organises the annual Oxford Dance Symposium with Jennifer Thorp, with whom he co-edited the Ballet de la Nuit in 2009.