The action takes place allegedly in Peru

Act 1

Lima’s town square, The Three Cousins tavern
The people celebrate the viceroy’s anniversary. The governor of Lima Don Pedro de Himoyosa and the first court gentleman Don Miguel de Panatellas check readiness of the feast. The viceroy Don Andrès de Ribeira enters in disguise. Street singers Périchole and Piquillo sing several songs in hope of getting a couple of coins.
Piquillo goes away to try earning anything for dinner. Tired Périchole stays. Poverty and hunger have exhausted her. Don Andrès, who is enchanted with Périchole, immediately wants to make her his favorite. For this to happen there are two requirements: in accordance with the court regulations a viceroy’s favorite has to be a lady in waiting and she has to be married. The viceroy requests two gentlemen to quickly find a husband for Périchole. Périchole says goodbye to Piquillo in a letter.
Don Andrès takes Périchole to dinner and in the meantime Piquillo returns. The young man desperately reads the Périchole’s farewell letter and tries to hang himself. But Panatellas prevents it. Instead the young man is offered a drink first and then a chance to marry an unknown girl for a considerable sum. Piquillo agrees after excessive drinking. Périchole enters accompanied by the viceroy. Even tipsy she refuses to marry, but agrees when she learns that her future husband is Piquillo. Everything is ready for the marriage. Drunken Piquillo unable to recognize anyone, even Périchole, nevertheless signs a marriage contract. The newly married are separately taken to the viceroy’s palace.

Act II

The viceroy’s palace
The court is insulted by the lowborn favorite’s appearance. Waiting for the ceremony of the new marquis presenting his wife to the court, court ladies and the marquis de Tarapote gossip about and laugh at Piquillo. Panatellas and Himoyosa disperse courtiers and offer Piquillo the benefits to which he is entitled as a favorite’s husband. The young man refuses to accept them, but agrees to do the ceremony – to present his wife to the viceroy.
Don Andrès and the heroine of the occasion enter. Piquillo is furious. He makes a scene, when recognizes his wife is Périchole. She tries to calm him down, but this annoys him even more. Piquillo calls the viceroy an old fool and theatrically throws Périchole to his feet. The rebel is captured and imprisoned in a special cell for recalcitrant husbands.


Scene 1
The prison for recalcitrant husbands
Piquillo is escorted to a cell by the governor and the first gentleman. They reason with him to calm down and at the same time feel sympathy for his nonconformist spirit.
Périchole sneaks into the prison cell accompanied by a bearded gaoler. She assures Piquillo that she still loves him and prom- ises him freedom, which she will get in return for jewels given by the viceroy.
The gaoler, who is actually the disguised viceroy, uncovers the lovers’ plan and becomes very angry. He locks them both in the cell, however, he makes a demand: if Périchole is ready to become his favorite, she may give a sign and return to court.
Suddenly a noise is heard, which draws nearer. This is an old prisoner marquis de Santarem, who has dug a tunnel to Piquillo’s cell by mistake. The marquis releases the lovers and the three of them decide to trick the viceroy into the cell, steal keys and escape. Poor misguided Don Andrès stays locked in the prison.

Scene 2
Lima’s town square, The Three Cousins tavern
The scandal caused by Périchole and Piquillo’s escape as well as the affront upon royal power and conscience have led to consequences. From now on a rigid and compelling lady called Opinia Publica controls the situation – she represents public opinion.
A chase headed by the governor and Lord Chancellor is arranged to pursue the fugitives. The three cousins discuss how the fate of royal favorites is capricious. The viceroy enters, he has to listen to Opinia’s reproaches and threats. Piquillo, Périchole and the old marquis enter right behind him, they have decided to turn themselves in.
Touched and a little confused Don Andrès decides to forgive them all. But marquis de Santarem can’t recall why he was arrested and it is impossible to forgive him. That’s why the viceroy leaves him to serve his sentence.
The main characters leave the square with the crowd singing triumphantly.