A street in one of the capital cities of Europe. It is getting dark. Passers-by are discussing their plans for the holidays: someone will dance at a masquerade, someone will tempt fate at a gambling table. Baroness Shtral meets a handsome Prince Zvezdych, who she immediately falls in love with. The girls persuade Nina to go with them to the masquerade. After some hesitations she agrees.
A gambling hall. Prince Zvezdych loses all his fortune to a high society gossiper and mischief maker Adam Shprykh. Arbenin, who was a professional gambler in the past, sympathizes with the prince’s despair and suggests playing instead of him. He sits down at the table and wins everything that Zvezdych has lost. An Unknown, who has observed the whole gambling, approaches the enraged Shprykh. He offers to take revenge on Arbenin. Zvezdych swears eternal friendship to his saver.
Arbenin is no longer interested in gambling. In his thoughts he is with his beloved wife Nina, in whom he has found life joy after a turbulent youth. Zvezdych diverts attention away from his thoughts and offers to go to the masquerade. They are followed by the Unknown and Shprykh. They are looking for opportunities to take revenge.
Masquerade. Zvezdych straightly flirts with a lady in a mask. Meanwhile, Nina, who realizes that this festivity is not her cup of tea, is eager to go home. The friends detain her. The festivity is in full swing. The tipsy gentlemen become more daring and ladies – light-hearted. Prince Zvezdych and Baroness Shtral’s relationship goes further and further. The hall is filled with the atmosphere of passion and joy. Nina is trying to go home, but she is stopped by a group of men who want to flirt with her and her friends. Running away from annoying admirers, she loses one of the bracelets that having been presented to her by the husband. Baroness Shtral finds this jewel and gives it to Zvezdych in sign of her favour. The prince immediately brags about his adventure and shows Arbenin the gift of a stranger. The bracelet seems familiar to Yevhen. Driving off obscure feelings, the man is going to go home. His path is blocked by a mysterious guest, who is trying to start a quarrel. Ignoring the attempts of the Unknown to challenge him to a duel, Yevhen pushes him out of the hall and goes home.
Many years ago, a rich young pleasure-seeker came together with an experienced gambler Yevhen Arbenin at the gambling table. The latter accused him of cheating and brought him to ruin. Ruined and insulted young man vowed revenge. Now, when Arbenin forgot this old story, it is time to pay the piper.
Having anxious thoughts, Arbenin is waiting for his wife to return. He first meets the evening without her. Nina enters. Her love and tenderness dispel her husband’s doubts. Suddenly, he notices that Nina has only one bracelet on her hand. Anger captivates his soul. The last conversation with the prince and the late return of his wife just intensify the jealousy. In addition, Nina was without the husband at a social event. She swears that the bracelet is lost at the masquerade. Arbenin calms down. The morning has come quietly. Nina hugs the husband and goes to a jewelry store, promising to buy the same bracelet.
At a square Zvezdych meets his woman friend. She introduces him to Nina, who hurries to the jewelry store. Kissing Nina’s hand, the prince notices a bracelet on her hand that looks like the one that was presented to him the day before. He perceives Nina’s shyness as disconcertion, and his guess that she is that mysterious stranger with whom he has flirted at the masquerade, turns into a conviction. He follows Nina.
Zvezdych again and again starts a conversation with Nina about the meeting that occurred during the masquerade. She rejects his courtship with indignation. The prince, enraged by the refusal, reveals to Baroness Shtral the secret of his yesterday’s love affair. Shtral is struck by the indiscretion of the prince and with horror puts herself in Nina’s place. Fearing that the talkative prince may reveal her secret, she does not dare to tell the truth. To protect her reputation, the Baroness does not invent anything than to calumniate Nina. She tells the «truth» about the relationship of Zvezdych and Nina to a high society gossiper Adam Shprykh. Soon the whole city will discuss the news about the next «victory» of the prince. The rumour has come up on Arbenin. He decides to take revenge on Zvezdych.
Gambling house. Zvezdych and Arbenin enter the hall. Yevhen offers the prince to play. Putting him stealthily an extra card, he accuses him of unfair gambling. Zvezdych is expelled from the upper-crust world with disgrace. The prince is depressed, he does not understand what has happened. Shprykh and the Unknown tell him the truth about Arbenin’s action. Yevhen has a new enemy.
High society event. Even the air in the hall is saturated with intrigues, passions and gossips. Guests discuss the latest news. When Zvezdych appears, all guests turn away from him. Nina appears with Yevhen. It seems to him that the society is laughing at him. Arbenin, who goes mad with jealousy, has an apparition of his wife’s treachery. The border between reality and conjecture is blurred. His secret enemies give the real content to the rumors.
The guests ask Nina to sing. She agrees without any desire. Her song causes the series of apparitions. In one apparition Arbenin’s wife is pure and innocent, in another one she is sinful in her passion for the prince. Despair deprives him of his mind, and pouring poison from the ring into a glass, he gives it to his wife. Nina drinks the glass dry.
Nina feels bad. It seems to her that the angels of death are taking her soul away, and only a bright and pure love for her husband still keeps her in this world. Nina seeks comfort in the arms of her husband again and again, but he turns away from her. Infuriated by Nina’s insistence, Arbenin accuses his wife of treachery and confesses that he has poisoned her. Dying, Nina swears her loyalty.
The funeral hall in the Arbenin’s house. High society hypocritically pays its last respects to Nina. A funeral curtain transforms faceless mass of people into a stormy ocean, which has swallowed up all mundane. The Unknown, Shprykh, Shtral and Zvezdych blame Arbenin for Nina’s death. They reveal the secret of the conspiracy. She is innocent! Arbenin is crushed by the enormity of his crime. Being unable to cope with the cruel reality, he goes mad.
Ballet is performed with one interval
Libretto by G. Sevoyan, L. Vilvovskaya, M. Dolgopolova, N. Ryzhenko, V. Smirnova-Golovanova based on a drama with the same name by M. Lermontov.
Musical composition and editing by E. Hovhannisyan