Act I. Backstage at the Comédie-Française.
Preparing for a performance, the company bustles around Michonnet, the stage manager. The Prince de Bouillon, admirer of the actress Duclos, is with his companion, the Abbé. Adriana enters reciting. The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter and arranges for its interception. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet wants to express his love for her, but Adriana explains she has a lover - a soldier in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio is in reality the count himself. He enters and declares his love for Adriana. They will meet after the performance. Adriana gives him some violets to put in his buttonhole. The Prince and the Abbé return. They have obtained the letter from Duclos – asking for a meeting with Maurizio later that evening near the Prince’s villa. The Prince decides to arrange a party for the company at the villa in order to expose the couple. He sends the letter on to Maurizio who then cancels his appointment with Adriana. She receives his letter on stage. Adriana agrees to join the Prince’s party.
Act II. A villa by the Seine.
The Princess de Bouillon is waiting for Maurizio so she can declare her love. He enters and she sees the violets. Where did he get them? He presents them to her. Maurizio is grateful for her help at court but admits he no longer loves her. She guesses he has a lover but he will not reveal who she is. The Prince and the Abbé suddenly arrive and the Princess hides. Maurizio realizes they think he is with Duclos. Adriana enters and learns Maurizio’s identity. He tells Adriana the assignation was political. They must arrange the escape of a woman who is in hiding. She is not Duclos. Adriana trusts him and agrees to help. During the intermezzo that follows, the house is darkened, and Adriana tells the Princess she can escape. However, the two women are mutually suspicious and the rescue attempt turns into a blazing quarrel before the Princess finally leaves. Michonnet notices a bracelet dropped by the Princess and gives it to Adriana.
Act III. The Hotel de Bouillon.
Maurizio has been imprisoned for debt, and the Princess is desperate to discover the identity of her rival. The Prince, who has an interest in chemistry, is putting away a powerful poison the government has asked him to analyze. Michonnet and Adriana arrive for the reception. The Princess thinks she recognizes her voice. She announces that Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana faints. Soon afterwards, Maurizio enters uninjured and Adriana is ecstatic. He sings of his war exploits. A ballet is performed: the Judgement of Paris. The Princess and Adriana challenge each other in growing recognition that they are rivals for Maurizio’s affection. Adriana learns that the bracelet Michonnet found belongs to the Princess. The latter pointedly suggests that Adriana should recite a scene from Ariadne Abandoned, but the Prince asks instead for a scene from Phèdre. Adriana uses the final lines of the text to make a headstrong attack on the Princess, who determines to have her revenge.
Act IV. A room in Adriana’s house.
Michonnet is waiting. Adriana is delirious with anger and jealousy. Members of the theatre company come to visit her, bringing her presents on her name day, trying to persuade her to return to the theatre. Michonnet has retrieved a diamond necklace previously pawned by Adriana to help Maurizio pay off his debts. A casket is delivered with a note from Maurizio. Adriana looks at the note and immediately feels unwell. She looks in the box and takes out the faded violets that she had once given Maurizio in the theatre. She is hurt that he should send them back to her. She kisses the flowers, and throws them in the fire. Maurizio enters. He wishes to marry her. They embrace but he finds she is shaking. Maurizio tells her that he did not send the flowers. She becomes deranged. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that she has been poisoned. She becomes lucid again, and dies.