HAVING begun its eagerly awaited autumn visit to Oxford with Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera went on to give us a stunning production of a second great staple of the musical stage.

An instant hit at its premiere in Venice – delivery boys were said to be whistling its trademark aria La donna è mobile the very next day – Verdi’s Rigoletto has never lost its place in the repertoire.

Why this should be so was amply illustrated in WNO’s thrilling performance under conductor Alexander Joel. Put simply, we are treated to an excellent story – “one of the greatest creations of the modern theatre,” said Verdi of Victor Hugo’s source play – allied to some of the best music the prolific composer ever produced.

Not for the first time with this opera, the director James Macdonald opted to update the action to an approximation of the present.

This worked extremely well, transforming the villain of the piece, the lecherous Duke (tenor David Junghoon Kim) into a politician-cum-crime-boss and his attendant courtiers into snazzily suited goons.

Why, there was even a touch of the US President about him when designer Robert Innes Hopkins showed his headquarters to be a facsimile of the Oval Office (see left).

Amid all the spivvery stumbled the hunchbacked outsider, the court jester Rigoletto (tenor Mark S Doss), who was soon gleefully administering some of the cruelty – in words and threatened deeds – that would eventually be lavishly repaid on him.

As the scene shifted to the jester’s home, we met his secret daughter Gilda (soprano Haegee Lee) and learned of her clandestine dealings with the dirty duke, posing as a student. Carried off by his henchmen, she soon discovered his true identity and was exposed to his dangerous proclivities.

Alas, this would not help to save her when Rigoletto’s murderous revenge went awry. As always, though, one did wonder why this rather foolish heroine wished a dreadful fate upon herself.