The city-state of Putivl. Together with his son, Vladimir, Prince Igor gathers his army for a military campaign against the Polovtsians. A sudden solar eclipse frightens everybody. The people and Igor’s inner circle of boyars (nobles) take this as a bad omen and plead with Igor to postpone the campaign. Unnoticed by the army, two soldiers—Skula and Yeroshka—decide to desert: they do not want to risk their lives and are determined to stay behind in Putivl. Igor’s wife, Yaroslavna, pleads with Igor to remain at home, but he cannot be persuaded. The Prince bids farewell to her and leaves her in the care of her brother, Prince Vladimir Galitsky. The army of Igor and Vladimir sets out on their campaign.
The Polovtsian steppes. The battle is lost. Igor’s army is destroyed, and he is taken prisoner by Khan Konchak, the chief of the Polovtsians. In his mind, the tormented Igor replays over and over everything that has happened. The beautiful Konchakovna, who is in love with Vladimir, appears to him. Then Yaroslavna appears. Then Ovlur appears, urging him to flee his captivity. Then Khan Konchak appears and offers his friendship as his guest of honor. Igor has a vision of the overwhelming joy of living life to its fullest.
In Yaroslavna’s palace. Terrible nightmares and dark premonitions haunt Yaroslavna. There has not been any news from Igor for a long time. Young maidens come to Yaroslavna accusing Galitsky of going on a wild rampage in Putivl. They complain that Galitsky has abducted one of their friends and ask Yaroslavna to step in and demand that the girl be returned to them. Yaroslavna doesn’t have the power to deal with her brother. Galitsky behaves impertinently with his sister and threatens both her and Igor.
In the court of Prince Galitsky, the men are having a drunken feast. Seeking still more power, Galitsky would like to exile Yaroslavna to a nunnery as part of his plan to replace Igor as the new Prince of Putivl. Skula and Yeroshka now support Galitsky’s claims. The young maidens come directly to Galitsky in a desperate attempt to save their friend, but the mob laughs at them, chasing them away. The drunken brawl reaches its climax; everyone prepares for revolt.
Yaroslavna’s palace. The boyars bring Yaroslavna the tragic news of the army’s destruction and of Igor’s captivity, sending her into turmoil. In the meantime, Galitsky and his followers take advantage of the moment and revolt. Alarm bells announce imminent danger: the enemy advances on Putivl and in the ensuing panic Galitsky is killed.
Putivl is destroyed and left in ruins. Yaroslavna has lost all hope for Igor’s return and weeps over her husband’s loss. Igor, who has in fact escaped from captivity, suddenly returns to destroyed Putivl. Torturous visions continue to haunt him. The tipsy Skula and Yeroshka discover Igor. In order to escape deserved punishment for treason, the cunning Skula suggests to Yeroshka that they be the first to summon the people to share the joyous news with them. Igor interrupts the crowd’s jubilation and addresses the people with words of repentance. He blames himself for all that has happened and calls upon everybody to unite and rebuild their destroyed lives.