On the seashore of Ceylon, a group of fishermen gather and select Zurga to be their King. While they are celebrating the decision, Nadir, a fisherman, returns after having spend a year away. Zurga and Nadir, friends since childhood, greet each other fondly, and Zurga asks Nadir to stay in the village. After the fishermen leave, the two men remember what was the cause of a rift in their friendship, and drove Nadir away; they both fell in love with the same young woman, but to maintain their friendship vowed not to pursue her. Again, they vow never to let a woman come between them and destroy their deep friendship.
The group of fishermen return, announcing the arrival of a boat. Zurga explains to everyone that a mysterious virgin from another island has been brought to pray for the fishermen as they journey out to see, warding off evil spirits. The veiled woman steps off of the boat, escorted by the High Priest, Nourabad. Zurga tells her, with all witnessing, that her duties are
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