Rigoletto is simply wonderful entertainment. It is uncanny to listen to the opening ten minutes or so and recognise a dozen superb tunes. It is also much more – a daring (for its time) attack on aristocratic privilege, a tender love story, and an impassioned appeal on behalf of the disadvantaged, all set to music of such wealth and beauty that, with its sister operas La traviata and Il trovatore, it has almost defined Italian opera for 150 years. Overcoming initial trouble with the censors, Verdi’s Rigoletto was a smash hit at its premiere and has not been out of the repertoire since. It’s not hard to see why. From Thomson Smillie’s accessible account, the opera comes alive on just one download. As he tells us, Verdi captures the gaiety of the court in Mantua: it ‘to borrow a famous phrase, shines like rotting mackerel by moonlight – it glitters and stinks’. David Timson is the perfect exponent of Smillie’s vivacious writing, securing a thoroughly entertaining and informative disc.