An astrologer focuses his telescope on a star in whose celestial visage the Queen of Shemakhan, the daughter of the Aerial Powers, appears. The astrologer realises that he has much to accomplish before he can claim her heart, and by means of magical gestures he conjures up a Golden Cockerel before heading to the city of Tsar Dodon.
Tsar Dodon and his two sons, Afron and Gvidon, consult with the Boyars about the constant attacks from the neighbouring realm. Prince Afron, the youngest son, favours a carefree life of merriment, but Prince Gvidon, the eldest son, voices his support for a declaration of war. The Boyars agree, although the old general takes issue and their meeting takes a dramatic turn.
Suddenly, the astrologer turns up and presents the Tsar with the Golden Cockerel whose crowing will warn the nation of an enemy approach. In return for the gift the Tsar promises the astrologer that he will grant him any wish at any given time.
After a sumptuous meal the Tsar retires to his chambers and falls into a deep sleep in which he dreams of the Queen of Shemakhan. But he is rudely awoken by the Golden Cockerel as it begins to crow, warning him of an impending danger. The Tsar decides to send his two sons to war so they can defeat the enemy. Since the two Princes have no desire to leave their girlfriends the Tsar orders them to head out for battle. Once again, the Golden Cockerel crows to warn of imminent peril. This time the Tsar himself ventures to war.
The Tsar arrives at the battlefield with his second army, and when he finds the lifeless bodies of his two sons he bemoans their fate. However, his grief is soon overcome when he sees a great tent from which the beautiful Queen appears with her entourage. The Tsar immediately falls in love and offers her his sceptre and his crown. Triumphant, he leads her away.
Back home, Amelfa, the Tsar’s faithful housekeeper, receives news from the battlefield. A large procession returns Tsar Dodon and the Queen to his domain. Soon the astrologer appears and demands that the Queen of Shemakhan is to be his reward. The Tsar kills him in anger. The Queen laughs and then makes herself scarce, while the Golden Cockerel flies down and picks the Tsar to death.
The astrologer’s body begins to move and he slowly rises. The Queen of Shemakhan appears before him and once again he attempts to claim her heart.