Summer evening. The garden of the Larin estate. Listening to her young daughters’ voices – Tatiana’s and Olga’s – Larina and nanny Filippievna reminisce about their youth. A slow song can be heard form afar. It’s the peasants coming to congratulate their landowner, they bring a sheaf decorated with flowers and ribbons – symbolising the end of the harvest. The peasants’ songs attract the attention of the girls – that of the thoughtful, pensive Tatiana and of the carefree and playful Olga. The Larins are visited by guests: their neighbour Vladimir Lensky, an enthusiastic young poet in love with Olga, and his friend Onegin. A young man of the world, who has recently arrived from St Petersburg, bored by the country life. Tatiana is greatly excited by the encounter with Onegin, whom she thinks she is destined for.
Tatiana’s room. The girl is in agitation. She cannot sleep and asks her nanny to tell her about her young days. But this doesn’t dissipate her agitation. Consumed by a new, hitherto unknown feeling, she writes a letter to Onegin, declaring her love for him.
The girls are singing song and picking berries in their shadowy garden. An alarmed Tatiana rushes in. Onegin has arrived, he will be here soon. With trepidation, she waits for his answer to her confession. Onegin is civil and restrained. He is touched by Tatiana’s sincerity, but he cannot reciprocate her feelings. Shaken, the girl bitterly listens to his moral admonitions.
The ballroom of the Larin estate. Many guests arrive for Tatiana’s birthday. Surrounded by young ladies, the Frenchman Triquet sings dithyrambs in honour of Tatiana. The gossiping provincial ball bores Onegin immensely. He decides to take revenge on Lensky for bringing him here by flirting with Olga. Lensky is outraged by his friend’s behaviour and his bride’s coquetry and frivolity. A quarrel breaks out during the mazurka. In a fit of wrath, the offended Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel. Those present try to reconcile the friends, but in vain.
The duel is to happen on a winter morning near the mill. Lensky and his second have arrived before daybreak. His thoughts and feelings go to Olga. What does the day have in store for him? Onegin arrives late. Both men hesitate, thinking of their former friendship, but it is too late, reconciliation is impossible. The duelists take their positions. A shot is fired, Lensky falls, fatally wounded.
St Petersburg’s elite are gathered in a rich mansion. The lustrous ball is in full swing. Having returned from his travels, Onegin is among the guests. Neither his journeying, nor the social life can dispel his melancholy. Prince Gremin enters with his wife, whom the astonished Onegin recognizes as Tatiana. The prince tells him warmly about his marriage and introduces him to Tatiana. Onegin understands only now the perfection of the girl, whose feelings he once rejected. Overcome by a sudden love for Tatiana he is determined to arrange a meeting with her.
In her reception room the agitated Tatiana reads Onegin’s letter. She still loves him. Onegin suddenly enters. He speaks with guilt and remorse. Tatiana remembers their first meeting, when happiness was so near, so possible. But the past cannot be changed; appealing for Onegin’s honour and pride Tatiana asks him to leave her.