Time: The year 1185
Place: The city of Putivl (prologue, Acts 1 & 4); a Polovtsian camp (Acts 2 & 3)
Evening in the Polovtsian Camp
Polovtsian maidens sing comparing love to a flower that droops in the heat of the day and is revived by night. They dance together (Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens). Konchakovna joins in the singing hoping that her own lover will join here soon (Konchakovna's Cavatina). The Russian prisoners arrive from their day's work and express their gratitide when fed by Konchakovna and the maidens. Their guards retire for the night leaving just Ovlur, a Christian, in charge. Vladimir, son of Igor, sings of his hope that his love will soon join him now that the day is fading (Vladimir's Cavatina). His love is Konchakovna. She comes and the two sing of their love and their desire to marry (Love Duet). While her father will consent to the marriage, they know that his will not. They part when they hear Igor coming. He sings of his disgrace and torment at being captured with his followers dead (Prince Igor's Aria). Only his wife, he feels, will be loyal. He hopes for the chance to regain his honour. Ovlur urges Igor to escape and the prince agrees to think about it. Khan Konchak asks him if all is well (Konchak's Aria) and he replies that the falcon cannot live in captivity. Konchak says that as Igor did not ask for mercy he is not a prisoner but an honoured guest equal to a Khan. Igor reminds him that he too knows what it is to be a captive. Konchak offers Igor freedom if he will promise not to wage war on him again, but he refuses saying he cannot lie. Konchak regrets that they were not born to be allies. They would then have captured all of Russia. He summons the Polovtsian slaves to entertain Igor and himself and offers Igor his choice of them. As the slaves dance the Polovtsy sing of Konchak's glory (Polovtsian Dances).
The Polovtsian camp
The Polovtsian army returns in triumph singing the praise of Khan Gzak (Polovtsian March). Konchak sings of the sack of Putivl and other victories and confidently predicts that they will soon capture all of Russia. Igor and his son Vladimir have their worst fears confirmed by the new captives. Vladimir and the other prisoners urge Igor to escape, but he is at first reluctant, singing of his shame and saying that it is the duty of the other Russian princes to save the homeland (Igor's Monologue, Mariinsky edition only). Ovlur now arrives to say that he has prepared horses for Igor and Vladimir and Igor now agrees to escape. The distressed Konchakovna comes, challenging Vladimir to show his love by either taking her with him or by staying. Igor urges his son to come, but Vladimir feels unable to leave Konchakovna who threatens to wake the camp. Eventually Igor flees alone and Konchakovna sounds the alarm. She and her father refuse to let the Polovtsy kill Vladimir. Instead Konchak orders the death of the guards and marries Vladimir to his daughter. As for Igor, Konchak thinks more of him for his escape.
Dawn in Putivl
Yaroslavna weeps at her separation from Igor and the defeat of his army, blaming the very elements themselves for helping the enemy (Yaroslavna's Lament). Peasant women blame not the wind but Khan Gzak for the devastation. As Yaroslavna looks around to acknowledge the destruction, she sees two riders in the distance who turn out to be Igor and Ovlur. The two lovers sing of their joy of being reunited and of the expectation that Ivan will lead the Russians to victory against the Khan. Unaware of Igor's return, Skula and Yeroshka, the drunken gudok players, sing a song that mocks him. Then they notice him in the distance. After a moment of panic about what will happen to them, Skula says that they should rely on their cunning and decides on a plan that will save them. They ring the church bells to summon a crowd. Although people at first treat them with suspicion, the gudok players manage to convince the crowd that Igor has returned and the boyars that they are loyal followers of the true prince and not Galitsky. All joyously celebrate Igor's return.