Easter morning in a Sicilian village square during the late 19th century:
Turiddu, a soldier recently returned from active service, is heard offstage praising his former sweetheart, Lola, who married Alfio while Turiddu was away. As villagers enter the church, Santuzza, a village girl, meets Turiddu’s mother, Mamma Lucia, and asks where he is. Mamma Lucia asks why she wants to know, and Santuzza is about to confess that she is in love with him when Alfio appears, singing about his job as a teamster. The remaining villagers proceed, singing, into the church, leaving Santuzza alone with Mamma Lucia. When Santuzza confesses her affair with Turiddu, the older woman rushes into the church to pray for her.

Turiddu appears, and Santuzza accuses him of being unfaithful. They argue bitterly. Lola arrives and interrupts the quarrel. The two women exchange harsh words, but Lola seems unaffected by them and enters the church. Turiddu, enraged, curses Santuzza, shoves her to the ground, and enters the church.

Alfio reappears, and Santuzza tells him of his wife’s infidelity. Alfio swears he will be avenged. The Easter services end, and the villagers file out into the square. As some of the men begin pouring wine, Turiddu sings a drinking song and offers Alfio a glass. Rebuffed, he challenges Alfio to fight. Turiddu says goodbye to his mother and goes off to confront Alfio. Santuzza prevents her from following her son. Suddenly, villagers rush into the square and declare that Turiddu has been killed.