The music of Don Carlos is pure Verdi. Sadly, the plot is as ratty as that of Il Trovatore. There are two love triangles, which is one too many, and every now and then some bastard pops up and asks ‘What about the Belgians?’, and we get a close run contest between an ugly king and an uglier inquisitor. The basses generate high drama and the tenor and baritone have a duet that is matched in popularity only by that from the Pearl Fishers. Any number of footy drunks have well-worn recordings of the late great Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill doing both that they put on to drown their grief at another kicking. But Don Carlos has a lot more throughout its very great length.
The current AO job is sound. The principals have the necessary fire power but even they got drowned once or twice by an orchestra that reminded me of Charlotte Corday after she had stabbed that rotter Marat: ‘I have always been a republican and I have never lacked energy.’ It was a very good show, but this might be one of those operas that some are happier with on disc at home – preferably without the aggravation of seeing your team get hammered again beforehand.
I went home after the matinee to watch the practice runs of the Monaco Grand Prix. What do opera and F1 have in common? At least three things. They are both in the entertainment business, and they both like to see themselves as high-end, although the opera houses do not emphasise that too much when they have their hands are out for public money. They are both hugely expensive, full of history, mystique and bullshit, all dotty over the latest technology, and claiming very great and high patronage – but in the end some dude has to get out there and lay their courage, talent, training, and self on the line – and it can get very ugly if they bugger it up. (This is the part I like about both – I admire the courage, the moral or intellectual courage, as much as anything else.) And they both have limited repertoires. If you took out the top four of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, the rest get a limited run, and we are just not making it any more (a problem we do not have with theatre or literature). The competition in F1 is far too restricted, at the moment life threateningly so. If Ford, BMW and Toyota cannot go the distance, who can?
One big difference is that F1 like any sport is unpredictable. The manageable variables are fuel, tyres and brakes. They make a Grand Prix like a chess game played at 300kph. The two jokers in the pack are the weather – God, I like it when it rains – and driver error or engine failure. Either can knock out a blameless driver, or lead to the safety car coming out – which can reconfigure the whole race.
On Sunday, everything was going to plan for the too dominant Mercedes team with their drivers at 1 and 2. The commentators were just saying that everything might change if the safety car came out when a brilliant seventeen year-old driver got just a fraction too ambitious in overtaking, touched wheels, and crashed into the barrier head-on at sickening heart-stopping speed. He was OK but the safety car came out, and Mercedes called in their number 1 to pit. This commonly happens, and they wanted him on fresh tires for the remainder of the race. But they did not have to bring him in, and they were horrified to see him come back out at number 3. They had cost the world champion the race.
It would be unfair to call this hubris on the part of the current ruler of the paddock. But they had forgotten my version of Occam’s razor. If you have simple solution, don’t buggerize around trying to find that is more refined or elegant. That just does not make sense. And Mercedes instantly confessed their error and apologised – both team bosses did so immediately. They said that there were too many people with too many opinions and that as a result there had been a simple failure of management. And I instantly knew just what they were talking about. I see it so often in rooms full of lawyers.
Now, if you got a cock-up like that at the opera, you would want your money back. But in that kind of entertainment that used to be called sport, the human drama is all part of the show, and I am glad that we don’t always run like clockwork.