A Square in the Ancient Russian Town of Putivl
Prince Igor, together with his son Vladimir and his warriors, is getting ready for a campaign against the nomadic Polovtsians who are devastating the Russian lands. The people greet Igor and the other princes and warriors and wish them victory.
Suddenly it gets dark - a solar eclipse begins. The people and boyars regard this as an ill omen and advise Prince Igor to put off the campaign. Igor´s wife Yaroslavna also implores him to stay at home. But Prince Igor is unbending. He is sure that his cause is just - he will defend his native Russia.
The prince says good-bye to his wife, tenderly consoles her and assures her that she need not worry about him and should await his return as victor. He entrusts Yaroslavna to the care of her brother, Prince Vladimir of Galich, whom he leaves as his deputy in Putivl.
Two warriors, Skula and Yeroshka, in secret leave Prince Igor´s armed forces. They want to join the service of the Prince of Galich.
After being blessed, Prince Igor and his detachment set off for the campaign.
Evening in the Polovtsian Camp
The Polovtsian maidens are trying to amuse Konchakovna, the daughter of Khan Konchak, with songs and dances. Her thoughts are focussed on the captive youth - Prince Igor´s son Vladimir. Konchakovna impatiently waits for a moment when she can see him.
Igor´s son Vladimir appears, and is charmed by Konchakovna. But Igor does not wish to hear of Vladimir´s marriage as long as they are captives. Konchak agrees to marry his daughter to the Russian prince.
Prince Igor cannot sleep. He is oppressed by gloomy thoughts. It is not easy to overcome the shame of defeat and captivity and his native land being enslaved. Igor passionately yearns for freedom in order to liberate Russia. He tenderly recalls his beloved wife Yaroslavna.
Suddenly Ovlur, a baptized Polovtsian, comes to him. He offers Igor his help to escape from captivity. But Prince Igor refuses - a Russian prince ought not to flee.
The Polovtsian Khan Konchak bestows Igor with high honours as his honoured guest. He promises to free him if he agrees never to raise his sword against the Polovtsians. But Igor rejects Konchak´s offer and does not hide his intentions: once free he will assemble forces and attack the Polovtsians again. The pride and valour of the Russian prince delight Konchak.
On the Khan´s orders, the captive women and warriors entertain Igor to dispel his gloomy thoughts by their dances glorifying the mighty Konchak.
The Courtyard of Prince Vladimir of Galich
The Prince of Galich is feasting at a lavishly laid table, with his servants led by Skula and Yeroshka carousing nearby. Prince Vladimir of Galich is eager to extend his power. He wants to confine Yaroslavna in a convent and become the Prince of Putivl by dethroning Prince Igor.
Agitated maidens run into the courtyard. They beg the Prince of Galich to liberate their girlfriend who was seized by warriors into the terem palace for amusement. But the prince drives the maidens out to the amusement of the drunken crowd.
The drinking-bout reaches its culmination. Skula and Yeroshka, together with the warriors whose boldness grows after drinking, praise Prince Igor and conspire a mutiny: "We shall depose Igor and elevate Vladimir to the throne! What are we to be afraid of?"
Yaroslavna´s Terem Palace
The princess feels uneasy. Troublesome dreams and bad presentiments do not leave her day or night. She has had no news from the prince for a long time. And she sees the strife around her created by the princes, even her brother Vladimir has conceived some evil deed, hoping to dethrone Prince Igor and become the Prince of Putivl.
The girls driven out by the prince from the courtyard suddenly arrive and distract Yaroslavna from her sad thoughts. The girls implore the princess to defend them from their offender. Yaroslavna accuses her brother of treason and treachery, but she cannot reason with him. Called by the princess to answer, the Prince of Galich conducts himself impertinently, threatening her and Prince Igor.
The boyars come in with sad tidings: Igor´s armed force has been defeated and the prince himself imprisoned. The Russian princes wallow in dissent, while hordes of Polovtsians march on Russia. Disturbed by what she has heard, Yaroslavna wishes to interrogate the messengers herself. Meanwhile, the Prince of Galich and his servants seize the moment and stir up a rebellion. The alarm bell is heard - the Polovtsians are approaching Putivl. The boyars and the people are resolute to defend their lands. ACT III
The Polovtsian Camp
The Khan´s army returns with its rich plunder. Knowing of the disaster that has befallen his native Putivil, Igor curses the defeat and calls on the Russian princes to unite, seeing this as the only way to escape their enemy. To save their native land the princes decide to flee with Ovlur´s assistance. Konchakovna raises the alarm. Prince Igor and Ovlur manage to escape. The wrathful Polovtsians demand the death of Prince Vladimir, but Konchak not only grants him pardon, he gives him his daughter in marriage as well.
The Town Wall at Putivl
The inhabitants´ sad song bewailing the desolated and burnt-out land echoes. Suddenly Yaroslavna notices two horsemen in the distance. She recognises one to be Prince Igor. So her long-awaited husband has returned at last!
The drunken Skula and Yeroshka, who do not know about the prince´s return, are mocking their captivated prince. They are quite taken aback on meeting him. In order to evade severe punishment, the shrewd Skula suggests to Yeroshka to be the first on the bell-tower and strike the bell announcing about the prince´s arrival.
On hearing the sounds of the bell, the people are glad to meet Prince Igor and the other princes arriving in Putivl and are ready to unite.