Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa abounds in glorious melodies, thoughtful characterisations, rousing set-pieces, wrenching choruses and wondrous orchestral interludes, both snazzy and sombre. The ending, a mad scene for the gentle heroine culminating in a haunting lullaby, must rank among the composer’s finest inspirations. Still, US performances have been exceedingly rare (the first occurred in 1925), audiences scant. What do we know, after all, about Ukrainian separatists fighting Cossack landowners in the realm of Peter the Great?

The Mariinsky Opera of St Petersburg brought a traditional Mazeppa to Lincoln Center in 1998 during a summer festival. It was, at best, a succès d’estime. Undaunted, the Met – in conjunction with the Mariinsky – added the opera to its repertory on Monday, using some of the same Russian forces.

Yuri Alexandrov, the director, and George Tsypin, his designer, have staged the proceedings as a quasi-modern hodge-podge – sometimes powerful, sometimes not. The action seems predicated on pompous circumstance. The clichés on display include a raked rising-and-falling platform, assorted Grand Guignol devices, simplistic symbols, earnest abstractions, iconic stylisations and lots of falling snow. The tone fluctuates between phony naturalism and strut-and-stagger ritual. Tatiana Noginova’s costumes fuse period regalia with modern dress. It is all a matter of progressive déjà-vu.

Listed as “principal guest-conductor” though he leads only one work a year, Valery Gergiev reinforces Tchaikovsky’s subtlety as well as his grandeur with enlightened bravado. Olga Guryakova exudes pathos, shrill fortes notwithstanding, as the blighted heroine. The baritone Nikolai Putilin brings keen authority to the mood-swings of the hetman protagonist. The basso Paata Burchuladze revels in the sacrificial plight of his friend-turned-enemy; and for once, he can sing in a language that he does not mangle. Larissa Diadkova makes much of the maternal-mezzo platitudes assigned his wife. Authentic ensemble values are respected by all. That includes the virtuosic chorus.

Many of the first-nighters greeted this exotic adventure with enthusiasm. Droves departed, however, during the second interval. Their loss.

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