The opera is set in a Russian village circa 1840.
Parasha is in love with her neighbour, Vassili, a young hussar, but they have difficulty in meeting. After they sing a duet, Vassili leaves, and then Parasha's mother enters. She is lamenting the difficulty of finding a new maid-servant after their prior maid-servant, Thecla, died. The mother orders her daughter to find a new maid-servant. Parasha comes up with a scheme to smuggle Vassili into her house disguised as Mavra, a female maid-servant. The ruse initially succeeds, and Parasha and Vassili are happy at being under the same roof. Parasha and her mother go out for a walk. At one moment, Vassili shaves. The ladies return, disconcerted to see their new maid-servant shaving. Vassili escapes out the window, her mother faints, the next door neighbour rushes in to try to help, and Parasha laments the loss of her young love.