Mademoiselle Mercandotti, Hughes Balls Hughes, and the (scandalous) uses of a Green Room

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 with a ‘young man of large fortune’, revealed to be the immensely wealthy Hughes Ball Hughes (1799-1863), nicknamed the ‘Golden Ball.’ As Walter Scott later commented: ‘few events in the fashionable world… 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 as a witness at the wedding that Ebers must have been involved.

This paper for Dancing Lives returns to these events, examining the circumstances of the elopement and its place in Mercandotti’s career, its position in the history of the King’s theatre and its troupe, and the building of the theatre’s first Green Room for the dancers. It will focus on the work of the caricaturists, to whom this (biographical) event offered a ‘golden’ opportunity to the satirists.

Michael Burden is Fellow in Music at New College, Oxford, and Professor in Opera Studies in the University. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, and his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He has served on the Council of the Royal Musical Association, is a patron member of the American Society for Eighteenth-century Studies, a trustee of Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM), and is currently the Past President of the British Society for 18th-century Studies. He is Dean of the College, and also holds the offices of Chattels Fellow and Portraits Fellow. He served for some years on the University of Oxford Committee for the Museums and Scientific Collections, and is currently a Visitor of the Ashmolean Museum.

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