In the early autumn of 1867, notices began to appear in newspapers all over the country. "Morlacchi wants $500 a night for dancing in this country," said one in the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal. "Morlacchi, the Peri of European dancers, wants $500 a night for coming to this country," read another in the Leavenworth, Kansas, Daily Commercial. Newspapers in Boston, Memphis, and New York all printed similar notes. The amount was staggering. In 1867, $500 was the equivalent of over $10,000 today.
Giuseppina Morlacchi, who by 1867 was already known by the singular name, was a well-known Italian prima ballerina and had charmed the major cities of Europe for more than a decade. She was regarded as the finest dancer of her generation, and was often referred to as the "Peerless" Morlacchi.
In New York City, the musical play "The Black Crook," now regarded as the first "book musical," had established itself as a huge hit at Niblo's Garden on Broadway, and other New York theaters were looking for their own musical spectacles to answer the challenge. Banvard's Museum, the 40,000+ square foot attraction owned by painter-turned-impresario John Banvard, hired a manager named John DePol. DePol knew that the best dancers in the world were in Europe, and he convinced the best dancer in Europe to come to America. On Sunday, September 22, 1867, the following announcement took up an entire column in the New York Daily Herald newspaper:
John De Pol to the Public of New York.
At Banvard’s Theatre, Broadway, Corner of Thirtieth Street.
THIS GREAT SPECTACULAR PIECE
will shortly be produced at this establishment with unprecedented, scenic splendor, and a brilliant host of artistic talent, under the direction of Mr. John De Pol.
THE MANAGER'S ADDRESS TO THE PUBLIC OF NEW YORK.
Having concluded my preparations, I desire to address a few words to the enlightened and appreciative public of New York, by way of preface to my first theatrical enterprise in America, which I am now about to produce after much labor, time, and foreign travel.
The cordial protection and favor extended in this country to all enterprises, possessing merit, and based on skilled labor are the incentives that have induced me to present to the American public public, the result of my studies and experiences, and the highest and most illustrious schools of dramatic, art, in all the countries of Europe. Had a long and successful experience in theatrical affairs in Europe, I look forward to a like success in this country, and should I be fortunate enough to please, and gratify the American public I shall have reason to feel justly proud. Indeed, I regard the commendation of an American, and, especially a New York audience, as a far greater honor and proof of merit than the favor, and appreciation of any other country on the globe.
My object is to present my audience with a brilliant and delightful, theatrical performance, free from the strictest sense of aught that can offend the strictest sense of morality; in fact, as a spectacular piece, suited to the progress and cultivated taste of a New York audience, and requiring, consequently, in its composition and production of the perfection of artistic and mechanical skill achieved in Paris, London, and other European capitals. This marvelous production will be brought out with the greatest splendor of decoration and costume, the highest artistic talent in the most skillful, mechanical novelties, and stage of affects. To secure this, I have lately spent five months and visiting the leading theaters of Europe, and the cities of London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Turin, Milan, Vienna, Berlin, and Brussels, taking note of all novelties and improvements.
It has been hinted that I came to the United States in order to compete with certain American managers. This is not correct. The greatest aim of competition is to vanquish arrival and profit by his defeat or extinction. I have no such selfish motive; on the contrary, I entertain the most friendly sentiments towards all my American colleagues, and by no means envy them their well-earned prosperity. I wish to labor with them side-by-side and perfect harmony, having only a friendly rival of our common patrons, based upon mutual esteem and admiration.
Having demonstrated my object, I have to call attention to the dramatic company and corps de ballet under my direction. But I must confess that, and view of the custom in this country of coupling the names of theatrical performers with the most extravagant, puffing before their appearance, I am almost at a loss how to announce them to the public. My method has always been to announce my artists without any praise, their names alone being a sufficient guarantee of their abilities, all those who are acquainted with European theatricals cannot fail to perceive that the combination of artists engaged by me as far superior talent to any company ever brought from Europe to this country, I have invariably acted upon this plan, and thus I have never disappointed my audiences by making promises, which could not be realized. On the contrary, and all my managerial experiences, I have given 10 times more than I advertised, and this I attribute in a great measure, my success and reputation in the old world. Consequently, I will confine myself to a simple and modest enumeration of the members of my company, merely giving their respective professional specialties and the theaters in Europe, where they have achieved their fame.
Mlle. Josephine Morlacchi
Is an artist of rare merit, having been during five years premiere danseuse at her majesty and Covent garden theater in London by the English theatergoers, Mmle Morlacchi is highly and deservedly esteemed. All those who have read the London papers must’ve noticed the pain and displeasure of the English public at her absence, and the difficulty the managers had experienced in finding a suitable substitute.
Star of honor and glory to the country that gave birth put, according to the Italian press at the summit of the most renowned celebrities, and I spared no pains of means to secure her engagement.
This beautiful and graceful danseuse is unrivaled in her peculiar style of dancing, owing to the action of the Italian government, and failing to grant the usual subsidy to the theater of La Scala, Milan, the greatest art theater in the world, where she was engaged to appear, the manager was unable to affect a transfer of her engagement with M. Perales, her Italian manager, receiving the congratulations of the leading maestri in Italy.
Has filled several engagements, with signal success, as premier danseuse at the principal theaters of Prussia and Austria, her last appearance in Europe, having been at the royal theater in Berlin. After much difficulty, her services were secured for the present troupe. Fascinating and graceful performances, have solicited the highest praise from the European press, and may be seen by the extracts in my office.
An immense favorite, with the public of London, brings with her the endorsement of that very severe critical school, the audiences of Her Majesty’s theatre. Her engagement as premiere danseuse establishment is an unquestionable credential of merit.
Is still another famous artiste, equal to, but differing in style and method from her other sisters of the light fantastic. This dancer has been honored with the first gold medal by the Royal Conservatoire at Turin, over a host of competitors, as premiere danseuse, the distinction having been unanimously awarded to Signora Lupo.
There is no need of special mention to direct public attention to the wonderful skill and winning grace of this accomplished dancer. Seeing is believing.
The beautiful and talented ballerina, who is now feeling an engagement at a Belgium theater, will shortly be added to the troupe.
Has a brilliant, artistic record, although he is only twenty-two years of age. He made his mark as the leading artiste of the celebrated choreographic company, “The Florentine Children,” which astonished all Europe, some 10 years ago.
The facts above stated are known to many, and but few are ignorant of them; and if there be any, who doubt the accuracy of these statements, I shall be pleased to show them ample proof in the shape of original documents in each case. I have next to remark upon a most important point. No theater in Europe, not even the most celebrated for artistic excellence, employs more than one leading lady dancer. The custom is to have one premiere danseuse, one assistant, and two second dancers, making a total of two first and two second dancers.
At Banvard’s Theatre, of which I have the honor to be manager, it is proposed to present for the first time in America, or even in Europe, a combination of leading Stars, all equally celebrated, consisting of four first dancers, each different from the other in style and execution, one second dancer, and another of the same class, now partially engaged. Such a reunion of first class artistes, each one of whom is able to ensure the fame and fortune of a manager in one constellation, would be most difficult, if not impossible, to affect in Europe; but I have succeeded in achieving it in America, through my peculiar system of theatrical management. Each of my artistes excels, and some special style, and thus I have succeeded in, combining all the diverse fascinations of the dance, into one company, and it is for this reason that I have named my troop, the “European” troupe. And this manner, I am unable to make the American public familiar with the latest novelties introduced into the ballet in the theaters of Europe, without the necessity of crossing the Atlantic to witness them. Indeed I may say, without fear of exaggeration, that such a combination of talent has rarely been produced at one time at one theater. But I must leave their merits to be judged by that infallible jury, the public.
The actors engaged in the city, to fill the principal roles in The Devil’s Auction are all of high rank in the profession: mr. Robert McWade, Miss Fanny Stocqueles, Mr. HB Phillips, Miss Emma, Sommers, Mr. C Daly, Miss Fanny Reeves, Mr. EL Mortimer, Mr. SB, Duffield, Mr. J Miller, Mr. Phillips, prompter.
The music has been specially composed for this piece and is the property of the manager.
The Devil’s Auction, arranged, especially for my theater by the young and accomplished Mr. Arthur Cuba’s Armengol, is a piece that has produced an immense sensation in Europe, having been performed over 1000 hundred times.
The costumes belong to the piece, suggested by myself and skillful, arranged by a celebrated Parisian costumer, elegant and artistic in design and cut. These designs are my sole property, and I shall take the necessary measures in accordance with the United States law to prevent any imitation of them in this country.
The decorations are in the French style and executed by the artistes Calyo, whose reputation in this department is unequalled.
The tricks and transformations are all of my own invention.
The Corps De Ballet,
Equal and numbers to that at the Theatre Imperial du Chatelet at Paris, is under the direction of one of the most renowned ballet, masters, in Italy,
Signor Domenico Bonzani.
The Devil’s Auction will be produced at a cost to the management of $75,000, and this is the shortest guarantee of its excellence, in every respect.
The piece has been put upon the stage according to my peculiar ideas, combining the French and American Styles, and in order to carry out my notions completely, the entire stage at Banvard’s Theatre has been remodeled, being unsuited, as originally planned for the production of large spectacular pieces. In addition to the original dances forming the repertoire of the theater, I propose to present to the public, the most popular choreographic novelties produced in Europe, and to this, and I have made arrangements with a number of theatrical agents in all parts of the world to supply me with every improvement and successful novelty that may appear
Such as my plan of campaign. My idea, I repeat, is the place New York, on a level with Paris, and London, regarding theatrical performances; and should I succeed in securing the encouragement and commendation of the public of New York, and will make another voyage to Europe, with the object of preparing a second grand spectacular piece.
If my efforts in this — my first production before an American audience — should prove successful, my utmost ambition will be gratified, and I shall feel a real satisfaction in the knowledge that my labors and abilities have gained the approbation And endorsement of an impartial and appreciative American audience.
I remain, the public’s obedient servant,
John De Pol
Manager, Banvard’s Theatre