< Index Page | Page 6 | Page 7 >

Haverly's Comic Opera Companies

by Stephen E. Busch

Most of the traveling opera companies of the latter 19th century were owned or controlled by the lead singer and were known by that person's name: The Emma Abbott Grand English Opera Company, the Carleton English Opera Company, The Emma Juch Grand English Opera Company, to name a few. Abbott's husband Eugene Wetherell and his business partner Charles Pratt advised Emma on financial aspects of the Company's operation (they were named as "managers" on most of her printed programs), but she controlled all musical decisions and travel schedules.

A few of these opera companies were owned/controlled by someone who usually did not travel with the company but remained at that person's business office, communicating with the company's road manager by telegram. John H. Haverly's English Opera Company was managed on the road by J.H. Mack while on its tour of Colorado in 1883. He was better known as Jack Haverly and was not with the company but he was named as " proprietor" in newspaper advertisements. One year he had offices in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Denver. An 1881 issue of the New York Clipper listed sixteen of his enterprises then in operation; one was an "opera comique company." Haverly was known nationally as a minstrel show owner/promoter and mining entrepreneur, definitely not an opera company operator.

Jessie Bartlett DavisHis light opera companies carried different names over the years. In 1880 the title was Haverly's Church Choir Opera Company when it appeared in Denver (Denver Opera House), Leadville (Tabor Opera House), Central City (Opera House) and Greeley (in Barnum Hall) and, unlike most traveling companies, performed only one show while on the road; in 1880 it was Gilbert and Sullivan's Pinafore. His companies traveled with orchestra and always received good reviews. The lead singers were known names in light opera, such as the well traveled Pauline Hall (who had her own opera company in 1893), Dora Wiley, and C.M. Pyke. The Colorado appearances in February 1883 included Denver (Tabor Grand), Fort Collins, (Opera House), Colorado Springs (Opera House) and Leadville (Tabor Opera House), and was usually advertised as Haverly's English Opera Company. For this road trip it performed only Strauss' Merry War. Haverly proved to be an astute judge of talent, whether for his minstrel shows or otherwise. Robert Grau, in his Forty Years Observation of Music and the Drama, wrote: "J.H. Haverly also organized one of these Church Choir Companies which included Jessie Bartlett Davis, John McWade and others of equal renown; this organization really provided the incentive and afterwards led to the formation of the first Boston Ideal Opera Company, a gathering of singers and players that has never been equaled in the history of the American stage."

Haverly was an ambitious man, an inveterate gambler and investor; he made fortunes and lost fortunes. When he bought a theater he usually selected someone to manage it, though he managed his 14th Street Theatre in New York City. His traveling shows-- minstrel and theatrical companies, comic opera companies-- all had road managers.

His investments in mining brought him to Colorado in 1880, first to Leadville, then quickly to Gunnison in 1881 where he bought a ranch a few miles up Tomichi Creek east of Gunnison. Duane Vandenbusche, in The Gunnison Country (1980), mentions Haverly frequently and at some length: "Jack Haverly, famous theatre and minstrel millionaire, was a colorful and key figure in the development of early Gunnison. When Leadville boomed in the late 1870s... Haverly came to Colorado. From Leadville, his thoughts increasingly were of the Gunnison country.... The 'minstrel king' came to Gunnison... and soon made a tremendous impact on the new town.... Haverly bought up fine ranch land just east of Gunnison, had a town named for him [where he bought a mine just west of Copley Lake], invested heavily in silver mines at Gothic and Irwin, bought coal land up Washington Gulch, and purchased several ranches and a sawmill up Ohio Creek.... A compulsive gambler and speculator, Haverly later declared that he had lost $250,000 in Colorado mines.... The Elk Mountain Pilot of Irwin bitterly chastised Haverly: 'Take a man from his line of business and place him in a business entirely foreign to his own, and he win surely make a wreck of it.'"

HaverlyIn 1882 and 1883 the New York Times ran numerous stories of his financial and legal problems; he was having hard times staying out of debt. But he kept many of his theatrical enterprises going, at least into 1884 when his fortunes began their final collapse.

Jack Haverly, born in Pennsylvania in 1838, died of heart disease in Salt Lake City on September 28, 1901, "but a few years ago one of the best known and most successful of theatrical managers...." At one time he owned six theatres and thirteen road companies; the comic opera company was one of the thirteen. The New York Times, in a piece entitled "Memories of 'Jack' Haverly," wrote that "during the height of his prosperity his lieutenants included most of the men who have come to the front in recent years... Charles Frohman, Daniel Frohman, Al Hayman, Gustave Frohman, Will J. Davis, Harry Mann, Frank McKee, Frederick E. Wright, Thomas McGuire, Charles L. Andrews, and William Fitzsimmons were among the men who were in his employ. He was the promoter of the Chicago Jockey Club race track, paying $150,000 for the controlling interest.  He was identified with various mining.... In 1884 his love for speculation caused him to overreach himself, and he failed. But he was always a successful showman, and his collapse was due to his mining 'investments' and the accompanying speculations in the Western mining exchanges and in Wall Street. Eugene Field thus apostrophized him:

'Jack' Haverly, 'Jack' Haverly, I wonder where you are.
Are your fortunes cast with Sirius, or 'neath some kindlier star?
How happens it we never see your wondrous minstrel show,
With its apt alliterations, as we used to, years ago?
All the ebon aggregations that afflict these modem times
Are equally unworthy our prose and of our rhymes.
And I vainly pine and hanker for the joys that used to come

With the trumpets um-ta-ra-ra and the big base drum.
'Jack' Haverly, here's a hoping that some bright propitious star
Beams kindly down upon you, whereso'er your interests are,
For my heart is warm toward you for the joy you gave me when
I was a little wambling tyke; and I were glad again
To see you marching up the street with your dusky knights of song--
By George, I'd head the gang of boys that whooped your way along;
And I'd stake that all our plaudits and acclaims would over come
The trumpet ump-ta-ra-ra and the big base drum.

Eugene Field (1850-1895), the "poet of childhood" and journalist, once worked for the Denver Tribune. and he is remembered in the area. There is a Eugene Field Elementary School in Littleton, Colorado and a Eugene Field Branch of the Denver Public Library.