Siegfried, the “Second Day” of Der Ring des Nibelungen and the third staging by Opera North after Die Walküre in 2012 and Das Rheingold the year before, is just as enthralling as its predecessors. As before, the orchestra is thoughtfully positioned and sorted out on the Victorian stage of Leeds Town Hall, where the acoustics, though not perfect, are good and Wagner-friendly, the singers are ranged across the strip in front and the three huge video screens are fixed high at the back.

Mati Turi as Siegfried © Clive Barda
Mati Turi as Siegfried
© Clive Barda

Last year, back at the Grand Theatre, the company was not entirely successful in its dealings with these: they were used to excess in Faust, tending to distract attention from the singers. Here, though not exactly discreet, they are always helpful and appropriate, carrying surtitles, brief narrative updates and images which match the action. There is plenty of fire raging and spouting in Act I, for example. The orchestra, magnificently conducted by Richard Farnes, is not overwhelming either, giving us a range of beautiful textures, each section given its full chance: the brass is particularly impressive – strident, or smooth, or subtle. This means, of course, that singers can avoid barking in competition with the instruments and concentrate on words and their meanings. This they do, and it makes the old Town Hall seem almost intimate.

It is easy to take against the boorish young Siegfried, the brutal and bullying innocent, in spite of our knowledge of the way he has been brought up, or not brought up, by the malevolent, whining Mime – but that would be difficult with Mati Turi, an Estonian wunderkind of a tenor making his debut with Opera North, who has the appearance of a jovially grinning weightlifter. He would flourish in a fully comic part, which becomes clear when he cuts and blows through an invisible pipe in an attempt to communicate with the bird in the woods. He seemed to get fresher and better on the first night after a briefly uncomfortable start, reaching his peak at the climax of an astonishing performance in his ecstatic exchange with Brünnhilde. His diction is excellent, and he can be delightfully lyrical as well as heroic, as demonstrated in Act II when he longs for his mother. There is plenty of Blackadder-flavoured humour in his double act with Mime.

It is easy to sympathise with Mime at first – until he starts cooking up fatal refreshments – probably because people enjoy a comic anti-hero, especially if the versatile Richard Roberts lands the part. He writhes and squirms wonderfully, constantly fascinating us, and sings with great clarity. Michael Druiett’s wracked Wanderer is familiar as the Wotan in Opera North’s Das Rheingold, soaked with dramatic charisma, and rich-voiced Mats Almgren is a memorable Fafner, seen for a short while in a grey suit with a red tie, his dragon self zooming at Siegfried and the audience from the video screen in the shape of an out-of-focus crocodile. His fearful effect on characters is indicated not only in the music but by lighting from below which creates huge shadows the height of the Town Hall pillars. This simple trick fits well with the rest of Peter Mumford’s excellent staging, which makes great use of miming, but there is not much need for that in Fafner’s rapid despatch: one big plunge with the invisible sword Nothung in his general direction and he is as good as dead.

If Mime does not chill us to the bone, his brother Alberich does. Jo Pohlheim (also making his Opera North debut) is a great villain, with a fine, strident baritone and a look which projects pure twisted evil even when he is not singing.

The power of the music in Act III, in which Wagner slows the action down, is just tremendous, deeply affecting and enjoyable. Wotan’s scene with the goddess Erda in which he realizes that his world will collapse is sensitively managed, a sad and perfectly enunciating Erda (Ceri Williams) moving off majestically to her everlasting sleep, and Annalena Persson appears as a truly ardent and lucid Brünnhilde as she is woken by the fearless boy who has never seen a woman and who thinks she might be his mother. This is the signal for the eroticism to begin to dominate everything, Tristan-style. The two are stationed well apart from each other for much of their long duet, which builds towards the moment when they can actually feel each other’s warm breath, touching and kissing at the very last, climactic moment.