Of the three Welsh National Opera productions of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin I have seen, the middle one was a turkey which was still-born as soon as it emerged from its grotesque shell.
But the current one, directed by James Macdonald, certainly restores the company's reputation in this most lyrical and heartbreaking of operas.
Tobias Hoheisel's sets emphasise the confines imposed both by a provincial Russian environment and by emotional dutifulness. It is only in Tatyana's wonderful Letter Scene that the barriers dis-appear, revealing instead a window onto another world outside. Andreas Gruter's lighting designs are atmospheric, complementing the drama almost without our realising.
The symmetry of Pushkin's tale (Tatyana's letter scorned by Onegin, Onegin's desperate plea to her when he sees her the property of another) is neatly conveyed here, as is the structure of Tchaikovsky's design of the opera as "Lyric Scenes".
Nuccia Focile is an adorable Tatyana, intelligent and poignant, and delivering a Letter Scene which could scarcely be surpassed in its dramatic truth. And Alexandra Sherman is credibly lookalike as her sister Olga, though she cannot disguise the fact that this delightful young girl is an impossible flirt, and is probably responsible for the whole tragic denouement.
Paul Charles Clarke is charming and authentic-looking as the doomed Lensky, and Rodion Pogossov is a compelling Onegin.
Hunched-up and withdrawn, he may not look the part, but vocally he is authoritative, and delivers Tchaikovsky's lines with charisma.
Alexander Polianichko conducts the perennially superlative WNO Orchestra with understated passion, conveying both the score's elegance and brooding undercurrents. Special praise to oboist Catriona Mackinnon, eloquent and pastoral by turns, wherever required in this glorious score.