In Anna Russell's wittily deadpan analysis of Wagner's Ring cycle, she describes Wotan as “the head god” – pausing for dramatic effect before adding “and he's a crashing bore too.” Wotan can be just that, especially in Act II of Die Walküre where he gets embroiled in a lengthy debate on marriage with his wife Fricka – which he loses – before providing daughter Brünnhilde with some generous backstory. It's a tricky scene to bring off, but taut performances in this second leg of Opera North's London Ring cycle made it crackle with tension.

Kelly Cae Hogan (Brünnhilde) and Robert Hayward (Wotan) © Clive Barda
Kelly Cae Hogan (Brünnhilde) and Robert Hayward (Wotan)
© Clive Barda

Wotan's been a busy boy since the end of Das Rheingold. Not only has he undergone a Dr Who-like regeneration into baritone Robert Hayward (he morphs again for Friday's Siegfried), but he has fathered eleven children by two different mothers – neither of them Fricka! No wonder she's grumpy. In Die Walküre, we meet all eleven offspring: the nine fearsome valkyries, including disobedient daughter Brünnhilde, plus twins Siegmund and Sieglinde – separated since early childhood, but reunited in an incestuous clinch by the end of the first act, thus enraging Hunding (Sieglinde's husband) and outraging Fricka, goddess of marriage.

Opera North's three giant video screens keep us up to speed with the plot in this concert performance, although lines such as “Hunding was immediately struck by a strange similarity between them [Siegmund and Sieglinde]” surely constitute a major spoiler alert. Wagner's score tells us everything we need to know. When Sieglinde describes to Siegmund how “a stranger came in an old grey cloak”, the trombone tells us it was Wotan. Wagner teases motifs from the score at every opportunity, reminding us of the events and relationships from Rheingold. Richard Farnes, economical in gesture and with a fluid beat, coaxed wonderful storytelling from his magnificent orchestra, rightfully earning roars of approval at the end of each act. From warm strings like brushed velvet to mournful bass clarinet to glockenspiel flecks in the Magic Fire music, the orchestra played like heroes worthy of Valhalla itself.

Lee Bisset (Sieglinde) © Clive Barda
Lee Bisset (Sieglinde)
© Clive Barda

The singing was very fine but, as in Das Rheingold, one performance stood out. Lee Bisset's Sieglinde was sublime, every emotion etched on her face and imparting a truly radiant “O hehrstes Wunder!”. Her soprano has plenty of blade, yet retains incredible beauty, even at full tilt. Swedish tenor Michael Weinius didn't push the accelerator relentlessly, giving Siegmund a good deal of warmth including a rapt “Winterstürme”. Robert Hayward was vocally disappointing as their father, his effortful Wotan lacking dramatic bite. His nuanced acting compensated, turning from haughty god to hen-pecked husband, bound by his own laws and willing the end to come quickly. Yvonne Howard's imperious Fricka wiped the floor with him, before casting a flinty glare at Brünnhilde for good measure. James Creswell's crisp bass made for a strong Hunding.

Kelly Cae Hogan's bright penetrating soprano thrilled as Wotan's errant daughter. Striding the platform in black leather boots beneath her concert dress, her Brünnhilde initially dazzled, but she also brought out the role's more vulnerable side, aided by a slightly smoky lower register. She returns to sing Brünnhilde in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung – no mean feat. A luxurious line-up of valkyries was assembled, among whom the thrilling steely tones of Katherine Broderick shone brightest, along with Claudia Huckle's gorgeously rich-toned Schwertleite.

The Valkyries and Sieglinde © Clive Barda
The Valkyries and Sieglinde
© Clive Barda

As well as providing surtitles and commentary, Peter Mumford's video screens reflected aspects of the story. Tree branches raced past as Siegmund took flight, embers glowed in Hunding's hut, crows circled above the valkyries. The hilt of a sword indicated Nothung, smashed by Wotan's spear but safely gathered by Brünnhilde in readiness for Siegfried on Friday... and a spot of dragon-slaying.