College assessor Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov , a self-satisfied petty bureaucrat, is being shaved by his barber, Ivan Yakovlevich. At home, the barber's wife serves him a roll for breakfast, inside which he discovers a nose. He tries to dispose of it in the River Neva, but a policeman prevents him.
Meanwhile, Kovalyov awakes to discover that his nose is missing. He rushes off to report the incident, but stops off along the way in Kazan Cathedral, where the nose, dressed in the uniform of a state councillor, is at prayer. Kovalyov begs it to return to his face but the nose refuses and gives him the slip.
Kovalyov, denied admission to the police inspector's office, goes to the newspaper office, where the advertising clerk refuses to place his plea for the missing nose. Back home, Kovalyov laments his noseless future.
The nose is arrested on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. The police inspector wraps it up in his handkerchief and takes it to Kovalyov, but it refuses to stay on the bureaucrat's face. Kovalyov blames the widow Podtochina for bewitching him in revenge for his reluctance to marry her daughter. The nose absconds again.
The nose has returned to Kovalyov's face as mysteriously as it
left. Life goes on as before, with an exchange between the assessor and his barber that's identical to the one at the start of the opera.
Kovalyov strolls along the Nevsky Prospekt, mocking Podtochina and flirting with a street vendor.