Some panache is required to put a credible orgy on the stage of venerable old Skipton Town Hall. Heritage Opera, which has plenty, does just that with a minimal number of participants: the opening scene has an engagingly rumbustious quality, with plenty of screams, snogging and groping but not much of the courtly elegance which might signify that this is more than your run-of-the-mill bordello. That might be asking too much of this terrific chamber opera company, on the road for nearly six years now in the north west of England, which relies principally on the excellence of the singing and the sort of staging that can fit easily into a Transit van. There is no orchestra, just Jonathan Ellis who works miracles on a Yamaha keyboard.

Nicholas Sales as the Duke of Mantua presides over his vicious, lecherous court without seeming particularly vicious, even when the topic is on whether Count Ceprano should be exiled or beheaded. The streak of nastiness comes later on. His warm, lyrical voice has a certain sweetness to it, which is brought to the fore in La donna è mobile. He sings this with great flourish (complete with a wink at the audience) in a classic bravura performance, making each word and each note matter in an English version provided by the company’s artistic director, Sarah Helsby Hughes. She translated the whole opera, no doubt partly in reaction to the clunkiness of some of the other translations which are available. The scene in Act Three which follows this aria, in which he attempts to seduce Maddalena (a superb Lily Papaioannou), watched through a gap in the wall by Gilda, is particularly well organised, with appropriately erotic choreographed movement.

Sarah Helsby Hughes plays Gilda as if born for the part, conveying anguish and love’s raptures with a beautiful delicacy: her Caro Nome is the early highlight of the show, with immaculate intonation and breathtaking cadenzas. This set-piece for a coloratura is seldom done as well as this. She is equally impressive in her duets, for example with her father Rigoletto in Act Two.

Mark Saberton’s Rigoletto really comes into his own towards the end of Act One, after the curse (delivered with great force by Matthew Palmer, who plays both Monterone and the courtier Marullo), as if his nerves have not until then been all that frayed by the courtly sneers and leers, and his compulsion to make cruel jests. He is at his best in scenes involving tenderness, with his daughter, but can put an extraordinary amount of venom into his broadly-ranged voice when he demands vengeance in Act Three. A slight limp and an almost indistinguishable lump on a shoulder are enough to represent his physical condition (this is no Richard III) and malevolence does not appear to a large extent in his features. The intensely dramatic poignancy of the difficult final scene is striking, particularly when he is singing with his dying daughter Gilda hanging out of a sack. He brought tears to several people sitting in the row in front.

Thomas Eaglen is an effective Sparafucile with a fine voice and a tangibly sinister stage presence, especially after stabbing Gilda and heaving her swiftly backstage. He could face a type-casting problem at some stage.

The touring set is simple and adequate on the whole – heavy dark red drapes, a crimson throne, a door, planks – but I could not go with the tangled barbed wire around Gilda’s lodgings, with its wartime connotations. It is distracting – and takes too long to put in place as well. But this is a small point, because in this Rigoletto, Heritage Opera can fairly claim that it is an artistic force to be reckoned.