In the world of opera, a new production by Jonathan Miller is a significant event.

The veteran English director turns 70 in July, and in his new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff,” running June 25-July 3 at the New National Theatre in Tokyo, his contributions to the worlds of comedy, theater and art combine to wonderfully enhance both the depth and breadth of the work.

Verdi was 80 when he wrote “Falstaff” in 1893. It would be his last opera and his only major comedy. Miller is himself a comedian, having started out in 1961 in “Beyond the Fringe,” the hit British radio-comedy show with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Miller has called it, with irony, “catastrophically successful.”) That may have been more than 40 years ago, but in a pre-show talk about this production he showed that his sharp comic sense hasn’t dulled, as he acted out sketches in which someone trips on a sidewalk, or comes in late to a lecture, much to the audience’s enjoyment.

“Falstaff” is built around the central figure of the eponymous hero, Sir John “fat paunch” Falstaff (played by Bernd Weikl), and his insatiable appetites for wine, women and, of course, song.

As Act 1 opens in the Garter Inn, Falstaff is finishing his dinner and calculating his debts. His henchmen Bardolf and Pistol — a zany little-and-large duo played respectively by the gangling Satoshi Chubachi and the diminutive Hidekazu Tsumaya — are being chastised for pick-pocketing by Dr. Caius (Heinz Zednik).

Falstaff’s stated aim is to seduce and then swindle two rich bourgeois women — Alice Ford and Meg Page — thereby, in a sense, picking their husbands’ pockets. Weikl, who has more than 120 major roles in his repertoire, begins the scene sedately, singing with his mouth full as he gives his servants Faginlike advice: “Steal with politeness and at the right time.”

Rising with apoplectic rage as he sends his recalcitrant servants out to deliver two love letters, Weikl seems to actually threaten the orchestra to emphasize the point, excelling in a role that demands deft switches between grandiloquence and awkward vulnerability.

Dominating the second scene, the “merry wives” of Windsor fame, Alice (Susan Anthony, last seen on the New National Theatre stage in “Die Walkure” in 2002) and Meg Page (Yayoi Masuda) get wind of Falstaff’s plan by comparing the love letters he has sent. They vow to bring down this “wine barrel” and along with the male principals, sing an immensely complicated recitative for nine voices in which they swear their revenge. As Ford (sung by the Italian-trained tenor Vladimir Chernov) tells us, the music sounds like “a buzzing of wasps, a murmur of hornets, a rolling of thunderclouds.”

Miller often takes a “hands-on” approach to directing; often, to the annoyance of some singers, actually getting on stage to choreograph moves and demonstrate the desired effect. In the finale of the first half, this approach, which can be essential in ensemble scenes, pays off. The male principals (led by the about-to-be-cuckolded Ford) break into Alice’s boudoir and become convinced that Falstaff is hiding behind a screen. They proceed to close in on it, staking it out as though engaged in bush warfare as the tempo increases wildly.

Although he often updates productions (famously transposing “The Mikado” to England in the 1920s), Miller has chosen to follow the general rule with “Falstaff,” and so has set the play in the 16th century. Isabella Bywater’s design draws directly on Dutch and Flemish paintings of interiors. Beginning as a concertina-style tavern, it opens up into a marble-floored bedroom in the climax of the first half. In Act 3 Scene 2, the whole stage space reveals huge oak tree trunks laid out on a diagonal chessboard design as in Windsor Great Park.

If there is any darkness left from Shakespeare’s original characterization, it is in Act 3, when Falstaff is finally humiliated. Verdi’s orchestration of this is among the most careful and complex of his oeuvre. Dan Ettinger conducts the Tokyo Philarmonic Orchestra with sensitivity, rising to the challenge of the strange solemnity of the music.

In this scene, in which all are disguised, Alice lures Falstaff into Windsor Great Park where, just as he thinks their tryst is about to be consummated, they are interrupted by Meg announcing that “the witches are coming.” Entering with tiny lanterns underneath their cowls, the chorus of “imps” and “elves” are ushered in and proceed to mock him. Their free-form fugue of voices mounts to near hysteria as they scream, “Let’s sting him, stick him . . . till he howls.”

In his own words, Miller conceives of Falstaff as a kind of charvari (Italian for a vagabond outcast) who, in the 19th century, might well have been lynched. With this sense of danger lurking beneath the second half of the drama, Falstaff’s character gains dramatic weight. When he finally realizes he has been gulled, he sings: “Every sort of common clown / makes fun of me and glories in it, / but, without me, they wouldn’t have / a pinch of salt for all their arrogance. / I’m the one who makes them so clever. / My wit creates the wit of others.”

Verdi was perhaps persuaded to dramatize Shakespeare’s character because it was a role that allowed him as a composer to comment on life through a comic alter ego. But Falstaff’s closing lines could also be applied to Miller’s own career. Although knighted in 2002, Miller has always spoken his mind, questioning artistic decisions with an almost philosophical rigor — and sometimes thus severing his relationship with opera establishments around the world.

I approached this production with some trepidation, fearing it might reveal more about Miller’s philosophy than his art, but the production is richly rewarding to anyone who relishes great comic characterization and timing. If truth-telling is a good starting point for comedy, it may be that Verdi, and his creation Falstaff, have found their perfect director in this latter-day Sir John.

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