After the prelude, we hear from behind the curtain sounds of the “Siciliana” being sung by Turiddu to his true love. It is Easter morning on the main square of a Sicilian village: church, pub and Mamma Lucia's house can be seen. Santuzza is looking for her lover, Turiddu, Mamma Lucia's son. The mother believes that her son has gone to town for wine, but Santuzza says she saw him in the village during the night. Alfio, the carter, who saw Turiddu near his own cottage early morning, confirms this.
The Easter processional brings peace to Santuzza’s heart for a fleeting moment, whose prayer sounds forth from the choir. But the girl’s fears resurface, and she tells Mamma Lucia that she knows that prior to leaving for the army, Turiddu was in love with Lola. They even vowed faithfulness to one another, but the fickle Lola did not wait for Turiddu to return and married Alfio. In his attempt to find happiness. Turiddu promises to marry Santuzza. However, Lola wins him back.
Mamma Lucia prepares for Mass with a heavy heart. Turiddu arrives on the scene. Santuzza badgers him with questions about his whereabouts, but Turiddu denies any wrongdoing and dismisses her accusations. The tension mounts as Lola arrives on the scene as well. Santuzza pleads in vain to Turiddu, but he angrily shoves her away and follows Lola. In anguish, Santuzza curses her lover. In the heat of suppressed passion, Santuzza tells Alfio of his wife’s infidelity. A short intermezzo foreshadows the impending tragedy.
Turiddu and Lola are celebrating with the villagers in the pub. Alfio arrives and Turiddu offers him wine, but Alfio refuses it. Turiddu knows his responsibility: according to ancient ritual, he bites Alfio’s ear, signalling a duel to the end.
Turiddu bids farewell to his mother and asks her to look after Santuzza should he not return. Alfio awaits him. Soon a voice is heard shrieking: “Turiddu has been murdered!”