By Dolunay Dogahan
A rather intriguing mix of a band consisting of guitar, percussion and the saxophone sets the mood for this intimate act of Bizet’s Carmen in the YMCA. Orchestrated by Stephen McNeff and played by the Cardiff University Operatic Society, the play rises above the expectations from an all student cast. If it wasn’t for the unfortunate venue with the restrictively small stage and couple of funny (and slightly awkward) moments such as the young cast blushing with the touch of Carmen, the audience would be excused to think they were watching a professional performance. The dancing performances lacked the superb coordination found in the acting and vocals though this might have very well been the result of the restrictive stage.
All in fantastic voice, the vocals blow the audience away, not least the tenor Henry Ngan, acting as the soldier Don Jose who manages to steal Carmen’s heart. His presence on stage however, weakens when it came to spoken dialogues. Falling short in capturing the audience with his entrance in Act I, we wonder how he manages to get the attention of the ever-so-distracted Carmen when he failed to capture ours. The contrast is perhaps heightened by the strong opening delivered by Benjamin Anthony with his Morales character.
Robyn Pullen’s Carmen performance on the other hand, despite the perfect vocal and acting somewhat misses a certain edge, perhaps to be explained by the timid take on her character. Pullen’s Carmen is not as bold and captivating as the most seductive and rebellious gypsy on the stage ought to be. She delivers good acting yet makes us question if it is enough to seduce.
A special mention of Juliana Willis with her Micaela performance needs to be made. Acting the naïve and shy peasant girl so well that she manages to capture us from the first minute she sets foot on the stage to the last. Despite the “weak character” she acts as, there is nothing weak about her performance, only a delight to watch and even more so to listen.
The story instantly grabs the audience and the demise of Don Jose unfolds at a steady pace from the moment Carmen throws a flower at him. Carmen’s complex character is revealed through her vulnerability against love and her fear for commitment resonates through the audience in the modern times more so than ever. Her fearlessness and openness in talking about her untameable nature and changing feelings makes it hard for the audience to blame her for the demise of Don Jose. Nonetheless, when an impassioned Don Jose cries with the strongly emotive vocal delivered by Ngan ‘Carmen, it cannot be over’, he tugs at the audience’s heartstrings.
Every member of the cast have played their part in delivering what was a greatly enjoyable performance. Despite the mentioned shortcomings, the intimate nature of the venue and the few funny moments here and there broke the glass between the stage and the audience, turning it into a more laid back and genuine experience than what one would’ve expect from an opera performance. The variety of vocal tones and characters such as the delightful gypsy girls Caterina Foglia and Georgia Rose and the instantly loveable characters of Rhys Archer and Owain Rowlands made sure there was no dull moment.
With a little bit of spice and boldness from Carmen and Don Jose, the already well- delivered play would’ve been elevated much further, but who knows, may be I am just missing the heat of the Mediterranean.