Ellen Kent, who turns 70 next year, remains a feisty woman. Tales of her 26 years as founder and director of her own opera company abound. I've heard rumours of how she has smuggled opera singers across borders in the luggage racks of Boeing 747s, and I've heard from her own lips tales of how she once maneuvered her entire costume department out of a Ukrainian war zone.
Her company has had drought seasons, where scenery and voices have wobbled. But at tonight's Rigoletto they are back to their best. They offer a vivid reminder of how they once sold out the Royal Albert Hall. Iurie Gisca excels in the title role as the beleaguered court jester who unwittingly orders the murder of his beloved daughter Gilda. The latter is compellingly portrayed by Alyona Kistenyova, a fine soprano.
The flimsy sets which set nerves on edge the last time Ellen's Rigoletto was performed at the New Theatre have been replaced by sturdy, convincing walls. The poster outside on George Street warns that the performance contains 'nudity' and it certainly does. Within five minutes of the curtain going up, there are naked buttocks on stage. It is, as you can imagine, opera lavishly performed - its stops pulled out and its corks popping. While people can be as snobby as they like about Ellen Kent's traditional productions, what could be healthier for opera than a packed theatre, with punters coming back for more?
During the interval, Ellen herself is especially keen to talk about two other performers - Wilma and Harry, the two royal greyhounds from the Oxford brand of the Royal Greyhound Trust, who appear on stage in Act One.
It seems as though, alongside opera, animal welfare has become her preoccupying passion. And sure enough, at the end of the show there she stands at the exit to the theatre, passionately shaking a bucket and yelling at the top of her voice for donations –undeniably - the Queen Boadicea of the opera world.