SIR John Falstaff, Knight of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, has fallen on hard times. The beer soaked Knight is reduced to living in a cramped caravan. His mounting debts include a hefty bar tab.

Falstaff intends to boost his income by seducing two wealthy wives of Windsor. Mistress Alice Ford and Mistress Meg Page each receive an identical love letter from Falstaff. The pair, aided by the wily governess Mistress Quickly, devise a cunning plan to get their own back on him.

Ford, Alice’s suspicious husband decides to test his wife’s fidelity. Disguised as a certain Master Brook, Ford lures Falstaff into a liaison with Alice. Their hilarious seduction scene is at the heart of Verdi’s wondrous final opera, based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Verdi and his librettist Arrigo Boito have created arguably the greatest fusion of words and music (in opera) since Mozart and Da Ponti’s Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni. Olivia Fuchs’ quicksilver production set in 1980’s Windsor matches the brilliance and comic timing of Verdi’s fast flowing conversational ensembles.

Henry Waddington is an unforgettable Falstaff who gracefully disports his not inconsiderable bulk in figure-hugging costumes to make the ladies swoon. Or so he imagines. Waddington’s velvety rich bass baritone is beautifully nuanced and every word of Amanda Holden’s English translation delivered with laser-like clarity.

Falstaff is obliged to pit his wits against the tennis playing yuppies of Windsor. The tennis ladies are led by soprano Kate Royal as Alice Ford, mezzo Helen Évora as Meg Page and mezzo Louise Winter as Quickly. A bright-toned Isabelle Peters as Nannetta and honeyed Russian-Ukrainian tenor Egor Zhuravskii as Master Fenton are the winsome young lovers. Richard Burkhard delivers Ford’s ‘Jealousy’ aria in authentic Verdian style. The wit and ingenuity of Verdi’s score with its jokey crescendos and brush strokes of ravishing lyricism is lovingly revealed by the Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Garry Walker.

Ford brings on stage two bulging giant-size Harrods branded paper carriers. The characters dip in to choose a fancy dress costume for the midnight humiliation of Falstaff in Windsor Park. Eventually, all ends in reconciliation, wedded bliss and a burst of laughter. The entire company joins Falstaff in All the world’s a joke - Tutto nel mondo è burla. Unmissable.

Leeds Grand Theatre, October 5th, 7th, 14th, 21st and 25th.