Verdi's last eight operas--and his hardly-begun King Lear--each receive a chapter of background and analysis in the breezy, middle-of-the-road Godefroy manner: too wittily allusive and quirkily erudite for fledgling fans, not quite deep or original enough for serious aficionados. But for those in between, the eclectic musico-dramatico-historical approach here offers much to charm and enhance. First Godefroy covers the opera's source and production history, zeroing in on whatever aspect--the setting, the composer-librettist collaboration, the troublesome structure--intrigues him most; then he strolls scene by scene through the score and text, saluting feats of dramatic construction, quoting inspired musical phrases, spotlighting relatively neglected strokes of genius, evoking orchestral effects with that particularly British panache (""grace-noted flutes and oboes pose further question-marks""). And in each case, he traces the passionate progress of one of the leading characters--not always the title role. Amneris ""towers over"" Aida; Iago is the star of Otello, notwithstanding ""the traditional guffawing of baritones who think they are Mephistopheles"" in the Credo aria (""savage, pseudo-mystical rubbish""). Fans of dark Verdi will probably find Godefroy too fond of La Forza del Destino, too down on Simon Bocanegra, but his exclamation-pointed enthusiasms are generally infectious, and the chapter on the unwritable Lear (blame falls on librettist Somma's incompetence and Verdi's excessive tact) brings together the fruits of recent scholarship with non-pedantic warmth. An ideal opera-going, opera-listening companion for the unpretentious buff.