Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ebers, John

EBERS, JOHN (1785?–1830?), operatic manager, the son of German parents, was born in London about 1785. He became a bookseller at 27 Old Bond Street, and seems to have been commercially successful, as he is described, at the beginning of his career as a manager, as ‘an opulent bookseller in Bond Street, who has been largely engaged in the interests of the holders of property-boxes for some years’ (Quarterly Musical Magazine, iii. 253). From this it would seem that he had acted as a kind of ticket agent. In 1820 the Italian Opera had reached a degree of commercial and artistic depression that was extraordinary, even for this most disastrous of speculations. The season had come to a premature end, and there seemed to be no prospect of an opera for the ensuing season. The secret of Ebers's apparent self-sacrifice is no doubt to be found in the circumstance of his being ‘engaged in the interests of the box-holders.’ He seems to have gone into the undertaking with his eyes open, but to have relied on his musical director to bring matters into a more satisfactory state. Ayrton, who had not acted in this capacity since the season of 1817 [see Ayrton, William], was evidently the right person for musical director, as he seems to have conducted an extremely successful season, and to have excited a good deal of sympathy in the musical public on the occasion of his former disagreement with the manager of the opera. It was by him that ‘Don Giovanni’ was introduced to English audiences. At first Ebers became the lessee of the King's Theatre, for one year only, and on 10 March 1821 the house opened with ‘La Gazza Ladra,’ then heard for the first time in England. As compared with the former seasons, this year was eminently successful, although it seems to have been the general opinion that the manager's promises with regard to the excellence of the singers had not been fulfilled. Mme. Camporese, who appeared in the opera just mentioned with the greatest success, had been engaged at a salary of 1,550l., with every sort of additional privilege, such as extra pay for her costumes, liberty to sing at concerts, &c. Mme. Ronzi de Begnis, her husband, and Signor Curioni seem to have been the only other singers whose performances gave unmingled satisfaction. It is hinted in the ‘Quarterly Musical Magazine,’ iii. 379, that the poverty of the company was due not to Ayrton, but to Ebers. Rossini's ‘Turco in Italia’ was the only other novelty produced during the season; but in spite of this somewhat modest inauguration of his management, Ebers seems to have been commercially successful. For the following season he ventured to take a four years' lease of the theatre from a banker named Chambers, who owned the house at the time. Ayrton seems to have been uniformly unfortunate in his relations with managers, for the connection between him and Ebers was dissolved this year. A Signor Petracchi, conductor at the Scala, Milan, was summoned to succeed him, and a board of directors, consisting of various noblemen, was associated with the management of the undertaking. The strength of the company was increased by the addition of Caradori and Begrez. The productions of the year were Rossini's ‘Pietro l'Eremita’ (i.e. ‘Mosè in Egitto’) and ‘Otello,’ Mosca's ‘I due pretendenti,’ a pasticcio, and Pacini's ‘Il Barone di Dolsheim,’ both of which last failed. In spite of this the season was on the whole successful. In 1823 the management was placed in the hands of a committee, under a certain guarantee to Ebers. Rossini's ‘La Donna del Lago,’ ‘Ricciardo e Zoraide,’ ‘Matilde di Shabran,’ and Mercadante's ‘Elisa e Claudio’ were produced. Although the bad accounts of the season which are to be read in the ‘Harmonicon’ for 1823 must be taken with a grain of salt (Ayrton was the editor of the paper, which appeared first in this year), it is still to be perceived that the affairs of the theatre were in an unsatisfactory state. Mme. Vestris was the only addition to the company, and Mme. Camporese retired at the end of the season. Ebers was now misguided enough to sublet the theatre for two years to one Benelli, who had been assistant stage manager, and who had contrived to worm himself into the good graces of the committee for the previous year. In January 1824 the season opened with Rossini's ‘Zelmira,’ with Mme. Colbran-Rossini in the principal part, the composer himself being advertised to be present. He had undertaken to write an opera, ‘La Figlia dell' aria,’ but if it was written, the score completely disappeared. Pasta made her appearance on 24 April, and the season lasted, in spite of enormous losses, till 14 Aug., shortly after which Benelli decamped, leaving Rossini and the artists unpaid. The matter of course came into the law courts, Ebers appealing to the lord chancellor to put him again into the management of the theatre. The particulars of the actions may be read in the ‘Quarterly Musical Magazine,’ vi. 516–521. It was generally considered that the engagement of Rossini was unwise; but the patronage bestowed by the fashionable world had been so great, that Ebers felt justified in announcing a new season, returning again to the directorship of Ayrton. The fact that the leases of the ‘property-boxes’ were to fall in at the end of 1825 gave a prospect of success. His prospectus (see Harmonicon, iii. 47) is more or less apologetic, but he had secured the services of a fairly good company, and in the course of the season Pasta was prevailed on to accept a portion of the salary due to her from the previous year in lieu of the whole amount, and to return to London. The board of works declaring the King's Theatre to be unsafe, the Haymarket Theatre was taken for a time, from the beginning of March until the middle of April. Rossini's ‘Semiramide’ was brought out on 20 June, and Meyerbeer's ‘Il Crociato in Egitto’ on 23 July, for the first appearance of Velluti, the sopranist, who was one of the great attractions of the year. At the end of the season Ayrton again retired, possibly on account of a difficulty which the management had had with Signor Garcia, the correspondence relating to which is published in the ‘Quarterly Musical Magazine,’ vii. 188–91. In November Velluti was appointed director, and the new season was announced to begin on the last day of the old year. It began on 7 Jan. 1826, when great dissatisfaction was caused by the substitution of many inexperienced orchestral performers for those who had played for many seasons. Morlacchi's ‘Tebaldo ed Isolina’ was produced without success on 25 Feb. In May Pasta appeared, and drew large audiences. Velluti's voice began to give out at the end of the season, and Ebers's choice of Rossini's ‘Aureliano in Palmira’ for his benefit, 22 June, did not add to his popularity. He got into trouble concerning the pay to the chorus on this occasion, and the matter was decided against him in the sheriff's court. On 12 Aug. the season came to an abrupt end, several performances being still due. In the next season Coccia, the conductor, resigned his post, and after considerable difficulty his place was taken by M. Dumon. Bochsa, who had undertaken two seasons of oratorios at the King's Theatre without any success, was now appointed director, and on 2 Dec. the house opened with Spontini's ‘La Vestale.’ Pacini's ‘La Schiava in Bagdad’ and Coccia's ‘Maria Stuart’ were produced, and on 7 Aug. the theatre again closed prematurely. At the end of the year Ebers, being unable to pay the enormous rent demanded of him by the assignees of Chambers, became a bankrupt. Messrs. Chambers at first intended to carry on the undertaking themselves, but they ultimately let the theatre to a certain Laurent, who was also lessee of the Théâtre Italien in Paris. After a year he was succeeded by Laporte. In this year (1828) Ebers published his ‘Seven Years of the King's Theatre,’ a book put together with some skill, and in its way an entertaining history of his career. He lays before the public all his accounts, in order to justify his own position, and on the whole it must be admitted to be a valuable contribution to the history of the Italian opera in England. After his failure as a manager, he resumed his business as a bookseller and stationer. His name appears in the directories as the proprietor of the business at 27 Old Bond Street down to 1830; in 1831 the style is John Ebers & Co., and from 1836 onwards the name is given as S. Ebers & Co. An Emily S. Ebers carried on the business, being called in the directory ‘opera agent,’ until 1863. It is probable that John Ebers died in 1830, and that his successor in the business retained his name for five years. He may have lived, however, till 1835, but it is improbable that he did so.

[Seven Years of the King's Theatre, 1828; Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, passim; Harmonicon, passim; Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 107, 301, 307, iii. 170, 177; London Directories for 1828–63.]

J. A. F. M.