The village square in Chamounix, Savoy, France.
It is dawn, and the villagers are singing on their way to church, for this is the day the young men go to Paris for the winter, to earn money as street entertainers.
Maddalena Loustolot awaits the return of her husband Antonio from a visit to the Marchesa, who owns their farm. Antonio has been anxious that their lease on the farm be renewed, and that the mortgage - held by the Marchesa - not be called in. Antonio arrives, relieved at having been assured that the Marchesa's brother, the Marchese (Marquis of Boisfleury) will speak on their behalf. The Marchese duly arrives, greeted enthusiastically by the villagers. He asks to see Linda, the Loustolot's beautiful daughter, but she is not there. Her parents assume that she has gone early to church.
The Marchese promises Antonio and Maddalena that he will renew- the lease and improve the buildings and farmland. There is, however, a hidden agenda: he has designs on Linda, who is the god-daughter of his sister the Marchesa, and he says that she must come to the castle, where "she may complete her education".
They leave, and Linda enters. She has not been to church, but rather to keep a rendezvous with her beloved Carlo, an impoverished artist; but she arrived too late and found only some flowers from him. Some girls arrive, followed by Pierotto, who sings his latest song while playing his hurdy-gurdy.
Pierotto's song is about a young girl who leaves home for a better life, but forgets her vows to her mother, falls in love, and then is betrayed. She returns home to find her mother dead, and spends the rest of her life weeping on her mother's grave.
Pierotto and the girls leave; then Carlo arrives, and meets Linda. They express their regret at missing each other earlier, and reaffirm their love. They leave, and the Prefect arrives to see Antonio. But instead of reassuring him of the Marchese's support, he warns Antonio that the Marchese has evil intentions towards his beloved daughter. The Prefect persuades Antonio that Linda must go to Paris with the men of the village, and stay there out of danger, with the Prefect's brother. The village gathers to say farewell to those who are leaving.
Three months later in Paris
Linda has been followed by Carlo, who has revealed that he is not after all a penniless painter, but the young Viscount of Sirval, son of the Marchesa, and nephew of the Marchese. He has provided for her an apartment in a fashionable quarter, where she now lives until their marriage. Carlo visits her daily. Linda has sent money to her parents, but has not heard from them. She hears familiar music from the street below. It is Pierotto, whom she invites in, and who explains that on arrival in Paris he was taken ill and afterwards was unable to find Linda. He expresses surprise at the luxury of her accommodation, and Linda explains about Carlo, and that their relationship is respectable. Pierotto says that he has seen the Marchese in the street below. After he leaves, the Marchese arrives and tries to persuade Linda to come and live with him. Outraged, Linda orders him out of her house. Carlo arrives having heard the terrible news that his mother has discovered his relationship, and insists that he instead marry a young titled girl immediately. He cannot, however, bring himself to tell Linda, and instead reaffirms his love for her "whatever may happen" before departing again.
Now an old man comes to the door, asking for help. It is Antonio, and he does not recognise this grand young lady as his daughter. When Linda reveals her identity, he is devastated, believing her to be living a life of sin. She tries to reassure him, but when Pierotto comes back to tell Linda that he has discovered that Carlo is to be married to another that very day, Antonio flies into a rage and disowns his daughter. At the thought of her betrayal by Carlo, Linda collapses, losing her mind.
Spring again in Chamounix
The villagers welcome the young men returning from Paris at winter's end. Carlo arrives and explains to the Prefect that his mother has relented and that he can after all marry Linda, whom he now seeks. The Prefect says that Linda was betrayed by a lover in Paris, has not returned, and cannot be found. Carlo is broken-hearted, telling the Prefect that he was her (entirely innocent) lover.
The Marchese arrives and tells the villagers that there is to be a wedding, and that all the villagers will be invited to the celebrations. "Just wait `till you see who the bride is!" he says, not knowing of Linda's illness.
Pierotto now arrives, with Linda; they have travelled the 600 miles from Paris, and are exhausted. Carlo sees her, and is distraught by her condition. She recognises nobody. But Pierotto sings to her, his song stirs her, and at last she seems to know her mother. Carlo sings to her of his undying love, and when he sings the words they shared when they first met, Linda's reason is restored. The whole village rejoices in anticipation of the wedding.