PrologueIn the room of Ivan the Terrible.
Scene oneChamber in oprichnik Grigory Gryaznoy’s house. He’s expecting his guests but he’s plunged in deep thought. He used to rape any girl he liked. But now he’s fallen in love passionately in love with Marfa, daughter of the merchant Sobakin, but she is already betrothed to the young boyar, Ivan Lykov.
His guests arrive: the oprichniks led by Malyuta Skuratov, Gryaznoy’s friend, Ivan Lykov and the Tsar’s foreign physician, Bomelius. Lykov tells the assembled company of the foreign parts from whence he has recently returned. To entertain his guests, Gryaznoy invites the singers. Bomelius asks Malyuta about Lyubasha, whom he calls his god-daughter. At Malyuta’s request, she sings a song.
Oprichniks depart to church, where the Tsar is to arrive. Gryaznoy detains Bomelius. Lyubasha hears the conversation: Gryaznoy asks Bomelius for a love potion. Lyubasha understands: Grigory doesn’t love her any more. She vows to return Grigory’s love.
Scene twoIvan the Terrible and followed by oprichniks are coming out of the monastery after the evening service. Common people discuss the Tsar’s viewing of brides.
Marfa, accompanied by her friend Dunyasha and Petrovna, the housekeeper, come out of the monastery gates. They bump into the Tsar and his intent gaze frightens her. Lyubasha meets her rival: she is struck by Marfa’s beauty. Out of her mind with despair, Lyubasha rushes to Bomelius to ask for a potion which will destroy human beauty. Bomelius agrees, demanding in return Lyubasha’s love. Lyubasha has to agree.
Scene threeViewing of brides. Sobakin is hosting Lykov and Grigory Gryaznoy. They’re wating for the girls from the viewing. Everybody is worried: they wish the Tsar didn’t choose Marfa. Domna Saburova, Dunyasha’s mother, arrives: she tells how tender was the Tsar to Dunyasha. Sobakin and Lykov are sure that the Tsar has chosen Dunyasha. Grigory fills two goblets, he intends to drink a toast to the bride and bridegroom. He managed to pour the love potion into Marfa’s goblet. Gryaznoy doesn’t know that Lyubasha has changed the potions. Malyuta appears with the boyars and proclaims the Tsar’s will — Marfa is to be his wife.
Scene fourIvan the Terrible is going round his palace.
Bitter fears for his daughter give Vassily Sobakin no peace: Marfa, who is to become the Tsar’s wife, has suddenly fallen ill. Gryaznoy appears with terrible news: Ivan Lykov under tortures confessed to having poisoned the Tsar’s bride and was executed. Having heard the terrible news, Marfa goes mad. She sees herself in the garden and recalls being chosen the Tsar’s bride. Gryaznoy admits that he had slandered Lykov and that he, himself, and given Marfa the love potion. Gryaznoy is in despair. But before giving himself up into the hands of the oprichniks, he wants to have things out with Bomelius who deceived him. Lyubasha appears in the room. She tells Grigory, she had substituted poison for the love potion Bomelius had given Grigory and which Grigory had then given Marfa. Grigory kills Lyubasha by plunging his knife into her heart and bids farewell to Marfa.