Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

To celebrate the bi-centennial of Giuseppe Verdi's birth, Los Angeles Opera recently mounted a new production of FALSTAFF, the composer's last and only comic opera. Directed by Lee Blakeley and conducted by James Conlon, this homegrown FALSTAFF featured baritone Roberto Frontali as the rotund and roguish Sir John. Frontali sang and acted the role with strength, vigor and zest, making Falstaff not just a figure of fun but a complex and likable human being.

The style of the production was broad and brash, with lots of comic shtick, but this was balanced by the overwhelming beauty of the score. Filled with youth and vitality, the music was like a swift-flowing stream, a force of life, with Verdi getting in some digs against some of his favorite targets: the church, authority in general, and operatic cliches (including some of his own).

Just about everyone in the ten-person cast had a gorgeous aria to deliver (mostly about the complications of love) and they all got together in the finale to take part in a rousing fugue (Verdi's first) whose message was, "All the world's a jest, but he who laughs last laughs best."

Next up at LA Opera is Benjamin Britten's BILLY BUDD, which will be presented at the Music Center, February 22-March 16. Call 213-972-8001 or visit laopera.com.