Lascivious, preposterous, acutely human: that's Shakespeare's fat knight, set to music by Verdi. Now Bryn Terfel, Wales' contribution to the gaiety of nations, has put the best of all possible comic operas on record, igniting every line with his sly wit and redwood-sized bass-baritone voice. Don't throw away your old Toscanini album--Claudio Abbado's conducting is sometimes a bit fussy--but Terfel is as fine a Falstaff as has ever lived, and Thomas Hampson is splendid as Ford, the hypersuspicious husband whom Sir John longs to cuckold. If current events are weighing you down, let Verdi buoy you back up. Where there are laughs, there is hope.
--By Terry Teachout