Act I
At the merry inn of the young widow Nastasya, nicknamed Kuma, feasting and games are underway and the wine flows freely. In answer to requests from her guests, the hostess of the inn, whom evil tongues have dubbed the enchantress or the sorceress, strikes up a stirring song about Mother Volga. The young Prince Yury comes riding past. Nastasya is intrigued by the rumor of his magnanimity and good looks. But the young Prince goes on his way and does not dally with the enchantress. The merriment is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the local Governor and Yury’s father, Prince Nikita. A cruel and arbitrary ruler, he has long threatened to close down this “vile den of carousing”. The revelers are taken aback. Some run off in different directions, others stand their ground, determined to defend Nastasya. Only Nastasya retains her cool. Her beauty, her welcoming look, her dignified speech cut short the Governor’s anger. Accepting her invitation to sit down and have a drink and struck to the core by her beauty, he presents her with a valuable ring. Minstrels appear on the scene and the carousing is renewed with even greater vigor. At a tip from Kuma, the Prince orders his senior minister Deacon Mamyrov, who has accompanied him — and dreams of making short work of this foul place of " drunkenness and excess" — to join in the minstrels’ riotous cavorting.

Act II
The Princess is out of sorts: the Prince has abandoned her, he pays frequent visits to Kuma at her roadside inn. Getting his own back on the Governor and Nastasya for making fun of him, Mamyrov slanders Nastasya to the Princess telling her that she is a witch, who has succeeded in enticing her husband. The Governor is unable of thinking of anything else but Nastasya. Accusing him of infidelity and of losing his good name, the Princess threatens to punish the “wanton hussy”. The Prince flies into a rage, tries to defend Nastasya, but his wife is implacable.
A crowd breaks into the Governor’s garden, chasing his servants who, in broad daylight, have robbed the trading people. Mamyrov takes the robbers under his protection and orders his servants to tie up the innocent. At the noise of the scuffle, young Prince Yury appears on the scene. He puts an end to the noisy brawl, accuses Mamyrov of injustice and releases the innocent crowd who go off home. Mortified at the absence of the Prince, who has again gone off over the Oka, the Princess tells her son of her troubles. Learning of his father’s infidelity, young Prince Yury swears he will kill Nastasya to defend his mother’s outraged honor.

Kuma’s hut. The Prince offers Nastasya riches and prosperity. But she does not reciprocate his passions and, at his threats to resort to force, she cries: “I’ll cut my own throat! I would rather die than yield to you...” The thwarted Governor leaves, he is quite beside himself. Polya, Nastasya’s friend and Foka, her uncle, warn her of the mortal danger which lies in store for her: the young Prince has sworn to kill her. Kuma has no intention of hiding: left alone, she waits for Yury. Yury enters unheard. Drawing his knife, he goes up to Nastasya’s couch. But he cannot bring himself to raise his hand against the sleeping woman. Nastasya opens her eyes — she is innocent before the Princess, before the young Prince, she loves him more than life itself. The disarmed Yury is overcome by a wave of rapturous tenderness.

Act IV
A forest thicket on the banks of the Oka. Disguised as a pilgrim, the unrelenting Princess, who has decided to take her revenge on Kuma for her husband and son, has come to the evil sorcerer Kudma for poison. No sooner has she disappeared into the sorcerer’s dug-out, than Kuma turns up: she is about to flee faraway in search of happiness with her lover, who has left his paternal home for her sake. Taking advantage of her son’s absence and gaining Nastasya’s trust, the Princess hands Kuma a cup of poison. Nastasya dies in the arms of Yury who has arrived on the scene. Striken with grief, he curses his mother. On the Princess’s orders, Kuma’s body is thrown into the river. Enter Prince Nikita who, refusing to believe Nastasya is dead, kills his son in a fit of rage. A storm is getting up on the Oka, lightening flashes. The old Prince, tormented by terrible visions, falls lifeless to the ground.