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Naxos’s Rossini opera series, mostly recorded live at the “Rossini in Wildbad” festival in Germany, is building up a formidable head of steam, and this latest release, taped last summer, tops the lot. It may not replace Decca’s venerable recording (Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne) as a first-choice Semiramide, but at budget price no one need feel short-changed by a cast as stylish as this.

The star performance comes from Alex Penda (formerly Alexandrina Pendatchanska) in the title role: the Bulgarian soprano is in glorious voice, seconded by Pizzolato’s refined Arsace, the contralto trouser role. The ensemble scenes are crisply marshalled by the conductor, Antonino Fogliani, and with Osborn and Regazzo impressing in the tenor and bass roles, supplemented by an excellent chorus, Rossini’s last Italian opera comes to life with unexpected intensity and coherence.

Rossini

Semiramide

Alex Penda, Marianna Pizzolato, Lorenzo Regazzo, John Osborn

(Naxos, 3 CDs)

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