History hasn't been too kind to Antonio Salieri, the prolific 18th-century Viennese court composer whose legacy will always live in the shadow of his great contemporary Mozart. Yet Tuesday evening at the Barns of Wolf Trap, the Wolf Trap Opera Company unearthed one of the composer's unsung masterworks and gave a coruscating account of his two-act comic opera "Falstaff."

The performance of this gem, based on Shakespeare's "Merry Wives of Windsor," rose on solid and sometimes inspired singing from the cast.

Baritone Brian Mulligan amply filled -- physically and musically -- the title role of a hapless, deluded loser trying to seduce two happily married women. He combined strong yet nuanced singing with uproariously funny acting. Laquita Mitchell, as the clever Mrs. Ford, displayed her resplendent soprano voice in numerous arias and ensembles.

Tenor Dimitri Pittas sang well as Mrs. Ford's insanely jealous husband, while baritone Markus Beam and mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh shone as Mr. and Mrs. Slender. Bass Jason Hardy and soprano Kristin Reiersen contributed pleasing touches in several key scenes. The forward drive of the entire performance was due in large part to the infectious chemistry among all the artists and some fine playing by the pickup orchestra, under the confident direction of maestro Steven Mosteller.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

Laquita Mitchell and Brian Mulligan in Salieri's opera at the Wolf Trap Barns.