The story is set in a Sicilian village around 1890. On Easter morning, Turiddu is heard singing about his beloved, Lola, who is now married to the merchant-carter, Alfio. Santuzza, a young woman who has been seduced and impregnated by Turiddu, arrives at the tavern of his mother, Lucia. Santuzza is desperate because of her heavy sense of guilt. The dialogue of the women is interrupted by the entrance of Alfio. Despite his outspoken pride and affection for his wife, Alfio also becomes suspicious of Turiddu’s relationship with Lola. While the villagers are attending mass, Santuzza encounters Turiddu. She confronts him and hopes to win him back. However, all is in vain. Not only does Turiddu forsake her, she is also mocked by Lola who passes by. Santuzza curses Turiddu as he enters church after Lola. Out of rage and jealousy, Santuzza revenges by revealing the affair to Alfio.
The action is suspended by the idyllic intermezzo. After the mass, Turiddu and the villagers gather for wine at the tavern. Alfio’s refusal to drink with Turridu provokes a challenge to a duel of knives. According to a long tradition of rustic chivalry, Turiddu takes the initiative with an embrace and a bite on Alfio’s right ear, meaning the two shall fight till death. Turiddu bids an impassioned farewell to his mother and asks her to take care of Santuzza if he does not return. As the duel takes place in a nearby orchard, Mamma Lucia and Santuzza wait anxiously. Blood-curdling shouts are heard in the distance. A woman stumbles in, crying “Turiddu has been killed”.