Preambule. Carnival festivities.
Pierrot. Pierrot is sad.
Harlequin. The colourfully dressed Harlequin swoops down on Pierrot. Harlequin is in good spirits; Pierrot’s wretched looks make him laugh all the more. He sneers and gibes at the poor fellow and vanishes as quickly as he appeared.
Eusebius. Eusebius enters slowly. He is perturbed by the glitter and merriment of the carnival. He is looking for refuge. At the feast there was no girl he was interested in enjoying the amusements together with. Suddenly he meets a stranger such as can only be dreamed of. It is Chiarina. She is dancing on the stage and drawing Eusebius after her.
Florestan. The passionate Florestan runs in, looking for Estrella. Voilà! Estrella feigns disdain. Florestan throws himself at her, wishing to declare his love. Continuing to act hurt, Estrella turns away, but the insistent Florestan succeeds in getting her to dance with him.
Coquette. Chiarina appears again with flowers in her arms. She dances coquettishly, giving her arm to Eusebius, she kisses a flower, throws it to Eusebius and hides.
Papillon. Pierrot is lonely. Papillon flutters past and flits about the stage lighheartedly. Pierrot lies in wait for her. Papillon flaps her wings, trying to fly away. Pierrot, intent on catching her with his hat, takes aim and throws it. Pierrot thinks he has caught Papillon, and retrieves his hat. What a disappointment! Papillon is not there – she has flown away.
Chiarina. Agitated by the events, Chiarina and two friends run in. Chiarina, apparently, has already told them about her adventure with Eusebius.
Reconaissance. The carnival characters arrive. Colombine slips as she moves across the floor; the merry Harlequin grabs hold of her. The happy couple look for the chance to withdraw and share their emotions. Their first wish, when they see no-one is looking, is to kiss.
Pantalone and Colombine. Pantalone, an old man trying to act young, enters in a terrible rush. Colombine had appointed a rendezvous. The clock shows that the time has come, and this is the place appointed in the letter... But his lady is not there. Pantalone decides to wait. In impatience he reads the letter again. Someone’s tender hands cover his eyes and someone else’s grab the letter – Harlequin and Colombine have decided to amuse themselves with the comical old devotee.
Promenade. The lovers appear, couple after couple. They plan on being alone, but they meet others also looking for a quiet spot. Papillon flies in, followed by Pierrot. Pantalone is among the strolling lovers, still trying to find the unknown writer of the letter. She leads him to Harlequin and Colombine who are wrapped in a daydream. Pantalone’s behaviour enfuriates Harlequin. At the top of his voice he declares “Columbine and I are to marry.” Pantalone protests. Pierrot calms everyone down. “No quarrels or arguments. Pantalone and Harlequin – make peace.” Harlequin holds out his hand, and Pantalone reluctantly accepts it.
The burst of merriment siezes everyone. In the carnival merriment only two are ill at ease – Pierrot and Pantalone. Columbine calls on Pantalone. He moves towards her. However, Harlequin throws him into the embraces of the gaping Pierrot and attaches Pierrot’s long arms to Pantalone’s back. The last bars of the carnival music can be heard and the curtain falls. Pierrot and Pantalone, cut off from the merriments behind the curtain, knock and bang, in vain begging to be let into the carnival.