To add insight and context to their performances of Das Rheingold, Opera North have been staging a number of events exploring Wagner, his music and the production of his operas. On Saturday evening their Howard Assembly Room played host to The Cross in the Mountains, an evening of German choral music composed in the age of the Ring Cycle. Conducted by Opera North Chorus Master Timothy Burke and featuring the wonderful ON chorus and horn section, the audience were taken on a journey through some beautiful Germanic vocal works.

The evening began with the music of Franz Schubert, who composed over 130 secular choruses in his lifetime, many of which share themes with Wagner's operas. Nachtgesang im Walde was particularly suited to a programme inspired by the Ring Cycle, as its nocturnal pastoral setting is dominated by a quartet of hunting horns which would be very much at home in Das Rheingold. The wonderful sound of the piece was echoed by the staging- plunged into darkness with only the reading lights of the male chorus to illuminate the intimate venue, we were drawn into the world of Schubert's moonlit night.

After more Schubert and a wonderful rendition of Emmy's Romance from Heinrich Marschner's opera Der Vampyr, we heard some extracts from the operas of Carl Maria von Weber, and it was during the Chorus of Mermaids and Fairies from his Oberon that the most impressive and balanced sound was created. The inclusion of an opera commissioned for the Royal Opera House with an English libretto may seem out of place in an evening dedicated to the Ring, but the drama of the piece and all of its supernatural elements had more in common with Wagner than we could have imagined. With the ladies chorus taking centre stage and the tenors singing from the Howard Assembly Room balcony directly above them, the pretty music was completely enveloping.

Despite the fact that this was billed as a choral evening, the decision to end the first half of the evening with Rheingold Fantasie- für 8 Hörner was a fantastic one. It showed off the horns of Opera North to great effect, and gave the audience a taster of the wonderful music to come in Das Rheingold. The piece features all the major themes of the opera, the most breathtaking of which was the beautiful Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla.

Post interval, we were treated to more Marschner, Schubert and some wonderful excerpts from Otto Nicolai's opera, Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor). The pieces were included in the programme of The Cross in the Mountains not just because Nicolai was a musical contemporary of Wagner's, but because of the supernatural themes shared with Der Ring des Nibelungen. The Moon Chorus and the Masked Dance were performed extremely evocatively, transporting you to the midsummer evening in which Sir John Falstaff becomes the victim of faeries and spirits, and it certainly made you want to find out more about the opera, which has been overshadowed by Verdi's epic Falstaff.

The choral highlight was, however, the Prisoners' Chorus from Fidelio, which proved to be the show stealer when Opera North performed the opera as part of their ON Liberty season. It was just as lush on Saturday night, with the contrasting soft and loud aspects of the piece sung flawlessly and very emotionally by all, and the two solos expertly performed by tenor Paul Rendall and bass Garrick Forbes. Here was the moment when the dimmed candle-like lighting of the Howard Assembly Room worked to best effect, with the twenty-strong ON male chorus evoking the setting perfectly as they sung through the semi-darkness.

The evening was not only the perfect way to warm up for what promises to be a very exciting concerrt performance of Das Rheingold- it was also a thought provoking exploration of the musical context of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Bringing lesser performed works to new audiences and doing so in a visually stimulating way is exactly what Opera North do best, and they didn't disappoint with The Cross in the Mountains.