Act I

Scene 1

Prince Igor, the only one amongst Russian princes, together with his son Vladimir and his armed force, is preparing to set off on a campaign against the nomad Polovtsy whose barbaric raids have laid waste the Russian land. The people sing the praises of Igor and warriors and wish them victory.

Igor and his army depart to pursue the Polovtsy. All of a sudden, it grows dark — due to an eclipse of the sun. Two members of Igor’s force, Skula and Yeroshka, desert from it unnoticed: they intend to switch to Prince Vladimir Galitsky’s service.

Scene 2

Young Polovetsian maidens sing and dance trying to distract the beautiful Konchakovna, daughter of Khan Konchak. All Konchakovna’s thoughts are concentrated on the captive youth — Prince Vladimir. She is waiting impatiently for a meeting with him. Enter Vladimir, Igor’s son, he is passionately in love with Konchakovna. Prince Igor refuses to consider his son’s marriage while they are prisoners. Konchak, though, is ready to give his daughter’s hand to the young Russian prince.

Prince Igor cannot sleep. It is hard to come to terms with the infamy of defeat and being a prisoner of war. Igor passionately longs for freedom, to liberate Russia. He thinks tenderly of his wife Yaroslavna.

Ovlur, a Christian Polovetsian, unexpectedly approaches Igor. He offers to help him escape. But the latter refuses — to run away furtively is beneath the dignity of a Russian prince.

Konchak, the Polovetsian Khan, treats Igor as an honored guest, showing him every consideration. He promises to set him free so long as he swears in future never to raise his sword against the Polovtsy. But, not concealing his intentions, Igor rejects Konchak’s offer: on acquiring his freedom, he will again raise an army and declare war on the Polovtsy. Konchak is impressed by the Russian prince’s pride and bravery. The Khan orders his dancing slaves and warriors to give a performance for Igor to disperse the latter’s melancholy mood; they sing the praises of the conqueror, the all-powerful Konchak.

Act II

Scene 1

Surrounded by his tipsy retainers, led by Skula and Yeroshka, Prince Galitsky is living it up. A little taste of power, has made him want more — he has a scheme to dispatch Yaroslavna to a nunnery and, having removed Igor, take his place as ruler of Putivl.

Young girls beg Galitsky to free their friend who has been abducted by his men. But to laughter from the drunken crowd, Galitsky turns a deaf ear to their plea and chases them off.

Yaroslavna is full of anxiety. She is haunted night and day by sinister dreams and forebodings. For a long time, there has been no word from the prince. She is surrounded by dissension, sedition, even that of her own brother, Vladimir, who wants to remove Igor and rule in Putivl.

The girls seek Yaroslavna’s protection from their offender. Yaroslavna accuses her brother of being a traitor, but is unable to assert her authority over him. Called to account by the Princess, Galitsky is insolently defiant with his sister, threatening both her and Prince Igor.

Enter some boyars with bad news: Igor’s army is decimated, Igor himself and his son have been taken captive, the Russian princes are bogged down in strife and the Polovetsian hordes are marching on Russia.

The alarm bell sounds, warning of danger — the Polovtsy are approaching Putivl. The boyars and the people defend their land against the enemy.

Scene 2

The Polovtsy gather together to pay homage to their mighty Khan. His forces have returned home laden with booty.

On hearing from them of the disaster which has overtaken his native Putivl, Igor desires to unite the Russian princes and acclaim them with passion. Now he is agree to escape with Ovlur.

Konchakovna rouses the sleeping camp and detains Vladimir; Igor manages to give his guards the slip. The angry khans demand Vladimir’s death, but Konchakovna won’t allow them to take him, and Konchak proclaims Vladimir his son-in-law.

Scene 3

Yaroslavna is lamenting her husband, having lost all hope she will ever see him again. Turning to the sun, the Dnieper, she demands them to tell her where Igor is, what fate has befallen him? Yaroslavna’s lament is echoed by that of the Russian peasants who are mourning their devastated native land.

Then the princess catches sight of two horsemen in the distance. It is Prince Igor and Ovlur. At long last her beloved husband has come home!

Skula and Yeroshka mock their captive prince. When they see Igor they are stunned. In order to avoid well-deserved punishment, the wiley Skula suggests to Yeroshka that they be the first to ring the church bells to inform the people of their prince’s return.

At the sound of the bells, the people come running to hear the news and joyfully greet Igor and the other princes who have arrived in Putivl, ready to unite and defend their land.