For any opera company to mount a Wagner opera is a great undertaking. For a very small semi-professional opera company to mount the entire Ring Cycle is a feat of extraordinary daring and perhaps madness. But that is exactly what Fulham Opera has decided to do.

Director Fiona Williams has chosen to set Fulham Opera's Ring Cycle in contemporary or recent America, with Wotan as an oil baron turned media tycoon. Sieglinde lives with the wife-beating Hunding in a trailer park, and Siegmund seems to be a recently discharged marine. But somehow Wotan also seems to be making a film about Siegmund (at least on the evidence of a film poster that he points to in Act II), though this idea is soon forgotten. Fricka is a glamorous and pretentious wife, embittered by Wotan's constant infidelities, so much so that she seems to have taken it upon herself to defend the institution of marriage for others. I'm sure that back-stories for all the characters have been elaborately worked out, but very little of it is actually represented on the stage. Brünnhilde is a happy, gothy (oxymoron?) teenager who is forced to grow up very rapidly by the events of the opera.

The problem with "updating" The Ring (which usually involves stripping it of its supernatural aspects), is not just how to get round the constant references to swords, curses and gods, but also that the meaning of the text is changed by the context and by extension, the characters' motivations and beliefs, and therefore ultimately the content of the drama. The onus is on the director to supply this new interpretation with whatever is required to make the work as compelling and powerful as it is in the original mythological setting that Wagner envisaged.

Until Act III, then, the direction was sufficient but lacked purpose or detail, but it was in the final act that the evening took off dramatically, musically and visually. The Ride of the Valkyries was actually funny (who knew Wagner could do comedy!), with the insanely physically mismatched sisters riding in on bikes, drinking, dressing up and generally larking about. They sounded fantastic too, each having their own moments of glory, all displaying promising talents (all young dramatic voices in development?). When Brünnhilde arrives with Sieglinde the mood changes dramatically in preparation for Wotan's furious entrance, which was the strongest moment of the evening. The final scene saw all the sisters involved in the ritual of Brünnhilde's enchantment, and Wotan's farewell was touchingly done.

It is absolutely extraordinary in some ways that Fulham Opera managed to assemble a cast for this opera at all, and that they have managed so well is a huge credit to them. While hardly perfect, to criticise them seems unfair, and all were committed dramatically and shone in their character's highlights: Jon Morrell as Siegmund delivered some magnificently stentorian "Wälse"s and a lovely Todesverkündung with a pleasingly manful tone. Laura Hudson as Sieglinde was a very sympathetic character and stage presence. Zoë South made an impressive Brünnhilde, delivering her best singing in her brief Act III monologues. Ian Wilson-Pope made an authoritative Wotan, again at his best in Act III dramatically and vocally. Elizabeth Russo (Fricka) and Oliver Hunt (Hunding) were also good.

The biggest drawback of this performance in some ways was the lack of orchestra, and for most listeners I imagine this will be a rather grave compromise. Die Walküre is sonically an absolutely gorgeous score, and to hear it rendered on the piano for its four-hour duration did become a bit trying. Musical Director Ben Woodward was at the piano, and one cannot but admire him for this herculean feat, but I do feel that the addition of even just a string quartet to form a piano quintet accompaniment might have made the evening far more enjoyable. Add to that a French horn and a flute, and I would have felt positively spoiled! Can we hope for this for their full cycles next year?

Fulham Opera present Die Walküre, at St John's FulhamCapriccio reviews Fulham Opera's Die Walküre, part of their Ring Cycle, at St John's Church, Fulham.3