- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

Poor Antonio Salieri. The esteemed court composer of Emperor Josef II in the late 18th century, he composed 39 operas and dozens of chamber and orchestral works during his productive and busy life.

Unfortunately for his posthumous reputation, his contemporary and sometimes rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, proved the more inventive composer of the two. Mozart’s tragic early death at 35 merely added to his stature, particularly when Salieri and the Italian faction of the court were accused, in a whispering campaign, of poisoning the German composer.

The story, probably not true, was perpetuated by Alexsandr Pushkin in prose and by Nikolai Rimsky-Korasakov in his opera “Mozart and Salieri.” It achieved legend status in 1984 when Milos Forman revived the issue once again in his brilliant film of Peter Shaffer’s stage play “Amadeus.”

Salieri’s work gradually was forgotten. Cecilia Bartoli, however, created a stir last fall with her hit CD featuring a selection of Salieri’s more dazzling opera arias. Miss Bartoli’s disc reveals a charming composer who, if not quite Mozart, was capable of penning highly entertaining music and hardly deserves his current rep as a third-rate hack.

Riding the crest of Miss Bartoli’s successful recording, the increasingly innovative Wolf Trap Opera Company is staging a brief engagement of Salieri’s 1799 comic opera “Falstaff” at the Barns.

“Falstaff” is performed with vim and vigor by Wolf Trap’s up-and-coming young singers. Attired in Timm Burrow’s sumptuously outrageous costumes, they scamper about Erhard Rom’s ever-changing sets with obvious relish and an irresistible sense of fun.

The company’s young cast is almost uniformly spot-on in this production. It is well-supported by the small pit orchestra, crisply conducted by Steven Mosteller — although on opening night, the first few pages of Act I wobbled a bit.

Particularly effective in the larger roles were baritone Brian Mulligan as the obtusely fat Sir John Falstaff, tenor Dimitri Pittas as the jealous husband Ford, and soprano Laquita Mitchell as his comically devious spouse.

The strong supporting cast backed them to the hilt, including baritone Markus Beam (Slender), mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh (Mrs. Slender), bass Jason Hardy (Bardolfo) and soprano Kristin Reiersen (Betty).

***

WHO: Wolf Trap Opera Company

WHAT: “Falstaff,” by Antonio Salieri

WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow

WHERE: The Barns at Wolf Trap, Vienna

TICKETS: $56

INFORMATION: Call 703-218-6500, or go to www.wolftrap.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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