Teatro alla Scala
The merchant Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov’s house. His wife Katerina Lvovna is bored with her tedious life and loveless marriage.
Boris Timofeyevich, her father-in-law, reproaches her for not yet having given his son an heir.
A mill-hand arrives with news that a dam at the mill has broken and needs immediate repair. Zinoviy Borisovich personally goes to oversee the work. Before leaving, he introduces to his father a new foreman named Sergei.
Boris Timofeyevich wants the servants to see the master off with crying and makes Katerina swear an oath to be faithful while her husband is away.
When no one’s listening, the cook, Aksinya, tells Katerina that the handsome Sergei was dismissed from his last job because the mistress fell for him.
Boris Timofeyevich again reproves his daughter-in-love for being indiffirent to her husband leaving.
The Izmailovs’ yard. The male servants are molesting Aksinya. Katerina appears and makes them let Aksinya go. Sergei challenges her to a fight in joke, but in the heat of the moment Boris Timofeevich appears. He threatens Katerina to tell Zinoviy about her behavior.
Katerina is in her bedroom. She complains to herself of her loneliness. Sergei knocks at her door. He pretends to be asking for a book, but this is only a pretext to get the mistress into a conversation. They hear Boris Timofeyevich’s voice at the door. Katerina hurries Sergei to leave her room, because her father-in-law is going to lock all the doors, but Sergei remains. He feels sure of success of his affair with Katerina.
At night. Boris Timofeyevich keeps watch over the yard, convinced that there are thieves around. He notices the light is on at Katerina’s room. As he approaches her window he sees his daughter-in-love saying goodbye to a man, in which Boris Timofeyevich recognizes Sergei. As the young man is climbing down, Boris Timofeyevich grabs him and shouts for help.
After summoning Katerina to watch, he flogs Sergei. When Boris Timofeyevich gets tired, Sergei is locked in the storeroom. Boris Timofeyevich sends a servant for Zinoviy and demands something to eat. Katerina serves him mushrooms with rat poison. As the old man writhes in agony, she takes off him the keys to the storeroom and goes to release Sergei.
The day is breaking. The foremen are going to work and find the master dying. They call the priest. Boris Timofeyevich points at Katerina as his poisoner. But Katerina insists that the mushrooms is the cause, and the priest finds her explanation sufficient.
The bedroom. Sergei is dismayed by forthcoming arrival of Zinoviy Borisovich: he wants to be Katerina’s husband. Katerina promises him to do everything he wants. Sergei falls asleep. Katerina has visions of the ghost of Boris Timofeyevich, cursing her for having poisoned him.
Behind the door barely audible steps are heard – Zinoviy Borisovich has returned from the mill. Katerina hides Sergei. On noticing a man’s belt left in her room, Zinoviy Borisovich begins to beat his wife with it. Sergey jumps out at Katerina’s cries, together they strangle Zinoviy Borisovich and hide the corpse in the cellar.
The Izmailovs’ yard. Katerina is standing near the cellar. The murder gives Katerina no peace. Sergei tries to convince her not to draw people’s attention to this place on the very day of their wedding. As they leave for their nuptials, a drunken Shabby Peasant, in search of liquor, breaks down the door to the cellar and on finding the decaying corpse in horror runs off to the police.
Police station. The police headed by the Sergeant are bored without any case and try to distract themselves by tormenting a local nihilist because of atheism.
When the Shabby Peasant bursts in with the news that he has found a corpse in the Izmailovs’ cellar, the Sergeant and his men hurry off to investigate.
The wedding feast is in progress in the Izmailovs’ garden. The drunken guests are greeting a newly married couple. Katerina notices that the padlock on the cellar door has been broken. She tells Sergei that they have been found out and must leave immediately. As he goes to get money from inside the house, the policemen enter the garden. Katerina, realizing there is no point in feigning innocence, holds out her wrists to be handcuffed. Sergei tries to escape but is captured.
A convoy of shackled convicts with Katerina and Sergei among them stops for a rest on the bank of a lake. Bribing a sentry to let her go to the men’s column, Katerina finds Sergei, who rebuffs her, blaming her for his predicament.
Meanwhile, Sergei flirts with another convict named Sonyetka. Together with her he mocks at Katerina. Sonyetka promises Sergei she will be his if he can get her new stockings. Sergei goes to Katerina to trick her out of her stockings and gives them to Sonyetka. The rest of the women taunt her.
In despair Katerina seems to see a remote wood lake, and the water in it is black like her conscience.
Sonyetka provokes her rival by showing to her Sergei’s gift. An officer orders everyone to get ready to continue the march. Katerina goes over to Sonyetka, pushes her into the lake and jumps in after her. Both women are drowned.