After studying in Saint Petersburg and Naples, he toured widely in Europe and Latin America, before becoming lead tenor at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg from 1887 to 1907. Here he performed at the premieres of Tchaikovsky's operas The Queen of Spades and Iolanta, in the roles of Herman and Vaudemont respectively. In both cases Tchaikovsky wrote additional numbers at the tenor's request. Figner also gave notable performances as Lensky in Yevgeny Onegin and Andrey in The Oprichnik.
From 1910 to 1915 Figner directed and sang with the Narodny Dom (Народний дом) opera company in Saint Petersburg.
In 1893, Tchaikovsky dedicated his set of Six Romances, Op. 73 to Nikolay Figner.
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
One letter from Tchaikovsky to Nikolay Figner has survived, dating from 1890, and has been translated into English on this website:
6 letters from Figner to Tchaikovsky, dating from 1890 and 1891, are preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 4488–4493).