It is the 28th May 1825, the eve of the coronation of King Charles X of France, at the Golden Lily Inn. Illustrious names from all over Europe have gathered here in order to travel to Reims and attend the coronation. Maddalena the house-keeper is exhorting her staff to get ready for the departure of the guests.
Don Prudenzio, a health attendant who calls himself a doctor, complains that the guests should not travel in their condition, but has decided to let them go anyway. Nonetheless, he insists on being listened to while they are still here.
Madame Cortese, the Tyrolean owner of the hotel, wishes that she could accompany her guests to the coronation. She instructs her staff on what they should talk about with the guests – fine clothes with Folleville, women with Belfiore, empire with Libenskof – so that the Golden Lily should become famous in Europe for its hospitality.
The first guest is a Parisian lady of fashion, the Contessa di Folleville. She is anxiously awaiting news of her carriage, when in runs Don Luigino with the news that the carriage has overturned and all her fine clothes have been ruined. The Contessa faints. The German Baron von Trombonok and Prudenzio enter and begin to fight over what to do to help her. Prudenzio dramatically announces that she is going to die, and Folleville instantly revives. She heroically decides not to travel, for patriotic reasons: she cannot be seen at the coronation without her fine clothes. She brightens up, however, when her maid Modestina arrives with a beautiful hat salvaged from the wreckage.
Trombonok laughs at the folly of the world, and several more characters begin to arrive – the antique collector Don Profondo, the Spanish Don Alvaro and the young Polish widow Marchesa Melibea. These last two seem delighted with each other’s company, and suddenly the Russian general Count Libenskof bursts in and creates a scene of jealousy, challenging Don Alvaro to a duel. The situation is saved by the arrival of Corinna the poetess from Rome. Her song of peace and fraternal love calms everyone.
All leave the stage and the English Lord Sidney appears. He is secretly in love with Corinna but dares not tell her of his feelings. He leaves (escaping Don Profondo’s prying questions), and Corinna enters.
The young French chevalier Belfiore quickly follows. Though he has the heart of the Contessa di Folleville, he is not averse to including Corinna in his list of conquests. Falling to his knees, he declares his love for her, and Corinna, surprised at first by his ridiculous advances, finally rejects him in a passionate fury.
Enter Don Profondo, who has been charged with organising the trunks for the journey. With the help of the hotel staff, he goes through the effects of his fellow travellers. He is interrupted by Folleville, who is looking for Belfiore. Profondo admits that he saw him with Corinna. This angers her, but suddenly Baron Trombonok and Luigino enter, followed by the whole company, with the news that there are no horses available, and the voyage to Reims must be cancelled. Everyone is dismayed, but Madame Cortese brings a letter from her husband, who writes that for those who miss the festivities in Reims, there will be festivities in Paris. The Contessa invites everyone to join her in the capital. Everyone decides to spend the money raised for the journey on a banquet at the Golden Lily.
Trombonok, whose favourite theme is harmony, convinces Libenskof and Melibea that they are made for each other. Libenskof asks forgiveness for his jealousy, and Melibea, harsh at first, finally relents and forgives him.
The final scene is a grand festive divertissement to celebrate harmony, with each guest singing a song from their country, ending with an improvisation by Corinna on the new king, Charles X. The guests sing a final song to the glory of France.