The Paris Opera Ballet showed us yet a third cast of principals in its "Swan Lake" at the Kennedy Center Opera House last night. Among the unusual factors was that this was the first time since Tuesday's opening night that Rudolph Nureyev -- the troupe's director and choreographer of this version of the ballet -- did not appear in either of the leading male parts. Last night the chief roles were taken by Elisabeth Platel as Odette-Odile; Charles Jude as Prince Siegfried; and Wilfried Romoli as the Tutor-Rothbart (Platel and Jude danced in the production's world premiere in Paris Dec. 24, 1984).

In several important ways, this was the most satisfying account of the ballet seen here thus far. Yet Nureyev's absence was felt as a loss. Though he'd shown himself to be sadly unequal to the demands of both roles (Siegfried and the Tutor-Rothbart) -- and not just physical demands -- even so his very presence on stage lent those performances a special authority. One sensed the ballet as an emanation of him, a projection of ideas -- however misbegotten -- that he could conceive but no longer personally carry out.

On the other side of the picture, Jude came far closer than his three Washington predecessors to realizing those ideas. With his long black hair, high cheekbones, full mouth and slight, well-proportioned figure, Jude looks a lot like Nureyev did at his age. He has none of Nureyev's erstwhile Tartar wildness and sexual fire, but he's a splendid dancer, with an imposing technique, a fine classical line, poetic gesture and musicality. From the start this was a Siegfried who stood, walked and moved like a born Prince. And even in the slow, soulful lifting of the arms that begins Siegfried's reflective solo in Act 1, one saw the Prince's dreamy character more tellingly revealed than anywhere during the three preceding nights.

Similarly, with Romoli as the Tutor-Rothbart, the Svengali aspects of the role finally came to visibility, not just in the acting but in the dancing as well. The tussle between Siegfried and Rothbart at the close of Act 1 could be perceived for the first time as a harbinger of the contest between the two for possession of Odette at the end of the ballet. Romoli even managed to inject some sparks of dramatic sense into the crabbed choreography of Rothbart's "Black Swan" solo -- in the demonic fury of those petulant cross-kicks, for example.

As Odette, Platel displayed a classical purity of style, especially conspicuous in her arabesques, hitherto unseen in the part. Dramatically, however, the portrayal left much to be desired. Her dancing was so calculated and self-contained (she seemed unaware she had any partner at all, let alone Jude), that despite all the linear perfection the effect was pallid and sexless. Her dynamics took on a harder edge as Odile, but the characterization remained as dim and she was technically shaky in the fireworks (if someone really wanted to do "Swan Lake" a favor, they'd get rid of those idiotically bombastic fouette's anyway).

From what we've seen thus far, one might guess the ideal lead casting would have been Florence Clerc with Jude (they are man and wife). In fact, they were scheduled to dance together, with Nureyev as the Tutor-Rothbart, for the final matinee tomorrow, but the illness of Claude de Vulpian -- yet another of the company's prodigious store of leads -- caused a reshuffling. Instead, tomorrow will bring on Isabelle Gue'rin as a fourth Odette-Odile, and perhaps some further happy surprises.