Given a production as brilliant as that conceived by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser for Welsh National Opera, it is amazing that Tchaikovsky's Mazepa is not more frequently performed.
This is certainly an opera which cries out for intelligent direction and, by updating its action to the Ukraine of the present day instead of three centuries ago (the separatist thrust and vaulting political ambition remain constant), Caurier and Leiser have removed any "quaintness" from this disturbing piece and allowed Tchaikovsky's astonishing score to communicate with gripping directness.
As dark as anything in middle-period Verdi, as spacious and richly-harmonised as Wagner, with links with Boris Godunov and fascinating resonances of Tchaikovsky's own Eugene Onegin, Mazepa creates characters each driven by obsession, whether emotional or power-crazed, and madness is indeed an important element in its make-up.
Its two chief roles, the initially charming and attractive regional overlord Mazepa himself (Robert Hayward commandingly impressive) and his young god-daughter and eventual wife Mariya both descend into insanity, and Tatiana Monogarova's portrayal of the latter takes her from the sweet little ingenue of the opera's optimistic opening to the crazed, abandoned wreck of its ending, her gestures and body-rhythms well observed.
Gidon Saks is heartbreaking in the dignity he brings to Kochubei, Mariya's destroyed father (his torture scene brings images of what America's disgusting extraordinary rendition must be like), and the other parts are uniformly well taken, with a superb standard of Russian-style singing.
The WNO Chorus bring a strong sense of character to their important contributions, and Alexander Polianichko draws a fine account of the opera's musical riches from the willing orchestra. An unforgettable evening.