Eugene Onegin , English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Tchaikovsky s Eugene Onegin is a classic Russian tale which uses an individual s move from provincial life to the pomp of St Petersburg as a canvas for exploring class divides, unrequited love and regret. This ENO production is the first revival of Julia Hollander s traditional staging of the opera, and it proves a more than serviceable backdrop for two utterly thrilling performances.

As Tatyana, Vivien Tierney gives the performance of her career. She sings superbly throughout, expressively, musically and her diction is clear as a bell. Tierney is a natural on the stage (she was excellent as Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw recently), every nuance of her character, every movement and inflection is fastidiously realised. During her incredibly intense Letter Scene, she holds the audience in rapt silence and you can see her actually living the role in the here and now. Unbelievably, this is her role debut and it s nothing short of sensational.

I haven t heard Neill Archer for several years. In that time, I m happy to note that his voice has grown immensely, and he throws himself into the role of Lensky. Again, this is his role debut and is hugely impressive. His demeanour throughout is ideal, and when he uses his voice to the full, the results are stunning. It goes without saying that he sings the quieter, lyrical passages with hushed introversion. The house hangs on his every word.

These two stellar performances also benefit from first class support in the form of Anne Wilkens, John Connell, Nuala Willis, Christine Rice and John Graham-Hall. Taken together, the production is a great ensemble achievement.

Against all this, it s a shame then that Andrew Schroeder making his UK debut in the title role seems out of sorts. No indisposition was announced on the night I attended, yet Schroeder failed to project much character or voice across the footlights. Another failing comes from the chorus whose words are virtually indistinguishable throughout - this is especially upsetting as they have been on cracking form this season.

On the other hand, Alexander Polianichko in the pit is sensitive to his singers, and the orchestra plays with vigour.

Overall, the ENO s Eugene Onegin is definitely worth a visit, especially for Tierney s superlative Tatyana - one of the finest assumptions to grace this stage. Eugene Onegin continues at the London Coliseum to 4 February 1998.

Keith McDonnell, January 1998