On Red Hill, near the Berendeyans’ trading quarter and Tsar Berendey’s capital. The fifteen-year-old Snow Maiden wants to live with the people in the nearby village, and her parents, Spring Beauty and Grandfather Frost, agree to let her be adopted by Bobyl’-Bakula and his wife.
In the village of Berendeyevka, on the other side of the river. Snow Maiden is enchanted by Lel’s songs, but is saddened when he goes off with a group of other girls. Kupava enters and announces her own wedding to Mizgir’. The ceremony takes place, but then Mizgir’ notices Snow Maiden, becomes smitten with her, and begs her to love him. Kupava brings this affrontery before the villagers, and they advise her to go to the Tsar for redress.
In Tsar Berendey’s palace. Kupava complains of Mizgir’ to Tsar Berendey, who decides to banish Mizgir’ to the forest. But these deliberations are disrupted by the appearance of the beautiful Snow Maiden. The Tsar asks her whom she loves, and she says, "no one." The Tsar declares that whoever successfully woos Snow Maiden will win both her and a royal reward. Although the maidens present Lel’ as the likely candidate, Mizgir’ swears that he will win Snow Maiden’s heart. The Tsar agrees to the contest as the people sing his praises.
In a forest reserve, that evening. The people amuse themselves with song and dance. The Tsar invites Lel’ to choose a maiden. Despite Snow Maiden’s pleas, he kisses Kupava and goes off with her. Snow Maiden, left alone and disconsolate, wonders why Lel’ has rejected her. Suddenly Mizgir’ appears and tries once more to win her love. Frightened by his words, she runs off; but the Wood-Sprite tricks Mizgir’ to follow an apparition of Snow Maiden instead. Lel’ and Kupava enter, declaring their mutual love. Snow Maiden finds them and, seeing their happiness, at last truly wishes to have the capacity to love.
In the valley of Yarilo (the sun god), dawn is breaking the next day. Snow Maiden calls on her mother, Spring-Beauty, who appears from a lake surrounded by flowers. Spring gives her daughter a garland and warns her to stay out of the light of the sun. Spring and her retinue sink into the lake. Before Snow Maiden can enter the protection of the forest, Mizgir’ appears. No longer able to resist, she professes her love for him. The Berendeyans, in ritual bride-and-groom pairs, arrive to celebrate Yarilo’s Day. Before the Tsar Mizgir’ presents Snow Maiden as his bride. As she declares her love for Mizgir’, a bright ray of sunlight appears, and Snow Maiden bids farewell: the power to love is the source of her demise. To the astonishment of the people, she melts. The inconsolable Mizgir’ drowns himself in the lake. The Tsar calms the horrified Berendeyans with the fact that this event has ended the fifteen-year-long winter that has befallen them. In response the people strike up a stirring hymn to Yarilo.
Tsar Berendey: tenor
Bermyata, a boyar a boyar and confidant of the tsar: bass
Spring Beauty: mezzo-soprano
Grandfather Frost: bass
The girl Snow Maiden (Devushka-Snegurochka), [their daughter]: soprano
Bobyl’ [i.e., landless peasant] Bakula: tenor
Bobylikha, his wife: mezzo-soprano
Lel’, a shepherd: alto
Kupava, a young maiden, daughter of a rich villager: soprano
Mizgir’, a merchant guest from the Berendeyans' trading quarter: baritone
First Herald: tenor
Second Herald: bass
The Tsar's Page-Boy: mezzo-soprano
The Wood-Sprite: tenor
Carnival (or Shrovetide), a straw effigy: bass
Boyars, their wives and the tsar's retinue, gusli-players, blind men, skomorokhi, gudok-players, bag-pipers, shepherds, lads and lasss, male and female Berendeyans of every age and calling, forest sprites, Spring's retinue -- birds (cranes, geese, ducks, rooks, magpies, starlings, larks, and others), flowers: chorus
The action takes place in the land of the Berendeyans, in pre-historic times.