First the Royal Ballet cast a pony in one of its productions. Now, their “stable-mates” at Covent Garden – the Royal Opera company – are getting in on the act.

Rupert, a 17.2hh Irish draught from Yorkshire, will star in the final act of Verdi’s comic opera, carrying the Shakespearean hero out hunting.

Ruth Greenwood of the Royal Opera House told H&H: “Hunting is one of the key themes of this new production, which is set in England in the 1950s.”

The Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri, who plays Falstaff, undertook some special preparation for the role.

“He had never ridden before,” said Ms Greenwood. “So he had a lesson on Rupert and sang to him, to get him used to his voice.”

But stage crew are confident that Rupert, a veteran of film and TV, won’t be fazed. He’s even had rubber shoes fitted, to ensure he doesn’t slip up.

Falstaff runs from 15-30 May www.roh.org.uk/falstaff.

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (10 May 2012)