It is a quiet late night at the country estate of Madame Larina. She is listening to the voices of her two young daughters, Olga and Tatiana, and she and the nurse, Filipevna, are reminded of their days long past. Larina recalls how she would sing romantic songs when she was young and in love. Though she was married against her will to a man not of her choosing, she has now grown quite content with her life. A peasant song is heard in the distance. The workers have just finished harvesting and are coming to greet their lady. Larina, happy to see them, asks them to sing a cheerful song. The peasants perform a song and dance for her and attract the attention of Olga and Tatiana. Tatiana says how that the peasant songs always make her dream of someplace far away, but Olga tells Tatiana of how much she loves the songs (“Ja nye sposobna k grusti tomnoy”). The sisters are very different from each other, Tatiana is melancholic and dreamy, while Olga is very cheerful.
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