Richard Jones has a lot to answer for. His cartoon-kitsch Ring for The Royal Opera back in 1994-5 scarred me so deeply that I've been reluctant to return to a staged cycle ever since. The mental picture of Rhinemaidens in fat suits and Brünnhilde in skeleton-print body-stocking still makes me shudder, not to mention Mime wearing a pinny as the dragon, Fafner. Opera North's cycle offers a form of personal Wagner therapy: all four music dramas in concert performances, but with Peter Mumford's carefully choreographed video and lighting effects. It was time to dip a tentative toe back into the Rhine.

Richard Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North © Clive Barda
Richard Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North
© Clive Barda

In many ways, Das Rheingold is an easy start. It's punchy, it's witty, it's got anvils! Also, it doesn't last five hours. Wagner didn't even count it as one of the 'days' in his cycle, but the 'preliminary evening'. This action-packed tale of gods, dwarves and giants sets up the more human drama of the three evenings to follow. Wonderfully conducted by Richard Farnes, the performance had me gripped from the first grumbling E flat at the bottom of the Rhine to the glorious blaze of brass as the gods process along the rainbow bridge into Valhalla.

Opera North's cycle of concert performances was initially born out of austerity. For a regional touring company to stage a full scale Ring is not only financially overwhelming, but physically challenging too. Many of the company's usual venues simply couldn't accommodate Wagner's vast orchestration. Instead, the orchestra is placed centre stage, allowing the music to speak directly to the audience free from the shackles of directorial concepts. Their cycle has unfolded over the past four years, one opera each season, each meeting with such critical acclaim that this summer Opera North is presenting the full cycle not once, but six times. Even many major houses would only run to three full cycles at a time.

Michael Druiett (Wotan), Jo Pohlheim (Alberich) and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Loge) © Clive Barda
Michael Druiett (Wotan), Jo Pohlheim (Alberich) and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Loge)
© Clive Barda

At Bayreuth, Wagner ensured you don't see the orchestra at all, burying them in its pit. Here, squeezed onto the Royal Festival Hall's platform, we could see nearly every inch of the orchestral tapestry. Six harps, huddled together, wove their filigree patterns, timps thwacked out the giants' outsized footsteps and a dozen percussionists tapped and hammered the Nibelung anvils. There were a few querulous horns in the Rhine's murk, but they truly snarled later as Alberich duffs up his brother, Mime. The best surprise came when Donner's hammer blow was spectacularly rendered via a 'Mahler 6' hammer onto a wooden box from which dust – talcum powder? – mushroomed.

Jeni Bern, Madeleine Shaw and Sarah Castle (Rhinemaidens) © Clive Barda
Jeni Bern, Madeleine Shaw and Sarah Castle (Rhinemaidens)
© Clive Barda

Above the orchestra were three video panels to display surtitles and to share narrative from the libretto, although it could do with losing the PowerPoint effects. Agitated waves, clouds, misty mountains and molten gold were conjured in video imagery, adding atmosphere rather than specific storytelling. Alberich turning himself into a giant serpent or a tiny toad would have seemed a prime opportunity to use video trickery, and although the serpent was suggested via a huge reptilian eye, toad-Alberich was created with simple green lighting on Jo Pohlheim's face as he squatted on his haunches. No props were used – not even a ring – until Fafner 'kills' Fasolt by drawing the red handkerchief from his brother's top pocket and letting it fall lifeless to the platform. Less really is more.

Mats Almgren (Fafner) and James Creswell (Fasolt) © Clive Barda
Mats Almgren (Fafner) and James Creswell (Fasolt)
© Clive Barda

As Wotan, Michael Druiett's frayed baritone never quite had the desired authority for a chief of the gods, but he was a good match for Yvonne Howard's wiry mezzo as Fricka (the haranguing Mrs Wotan). Pohlheim's gravelly bass-baritone made for an initially gruff Alberich, but he delivered a venomous curse. The giants Fasolt and Fafner were wonderfully contrasted basses, James Creswell steely and incisive, Mats Almgren softer and darker in tone, but implacable. The three Rhinemaidens were vocally and sartorially well-blended, dressed in matching turquoise gowns, and Giselle Allen's Freia gleamed. Hands aquiver at every trembling string motif, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke was a vividly brilliant Loge, quite the star of the show – oozing irony and relishing the text.

A thoroughly enjoyable Rheingold with clear, concise storytelling and glittering orchestral contributions. Not long to wait for my next therapy session.