The Pontevedrian Embassy
A ball is being held in honor of the birthday of the Grand Duke of Pontevedro. Baron Zeta, the Ambassador, ponders the problem of how to save his country from impending bankruptcy. Meanwhile, right under his nose, the Parisian Camille de Rosillon is wooing Zeta’s wife Valencienne. Camille has just written on her fan what she will not allow him to say: “I love you.” They are interrupted by Zeta, and Valencienne drops the fan. Zeta is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Anna Glavari, the widow of a Pontevedrian banker who has left her 20 million francs.
This news makes the Frenchmen Cascada and St. Brioche eager to meet her, which in turn makes Zeta and his councillors, Bogdanowitsch and Kromov, very worried: If the Widow marries a Frenchman, her millions will be lost to the Fatherland. Zeta is determined that Anna shall marry a Pontevedrian, and has selected Count Danilo as the ideal bridegroom, but Danilo has not yet appeared at the ball. He orders his assistant, Njegus, to locate Danilo, and goes off to be ready to greet the Widow. Meanwhile, Camille continues his pursuit of Valencienne. She loves him, but considers her marriage to be sacred. Camille is disappointed but persistent. They leave as Zeta arrives with Njegus, who has finally found Danilo carousing at Maxim’s. Danilo has promised to come to the ball after one more bottle.
Anna sweeps into the ballroom and is surrounded by a group of hopeful French suitors. She reflects that she might be loved for her millions rather than for herself. Valencienne introduces Camille to her, whispering to Camille that he must end their affair and marry the Widow. Anna, meanwhile, invites everyone to a Pontevedrian party at her house later on, and declares that she is ready to dance. Zeta pushes through the crowd of suitors, claims the first dance for himself, and escorts her into the ballroom.
Danilo arrives. He is a little the worse for champagne, so he decides to have a nap, which is briefly interrupted by the entrance of Valencienne and Camille. She is in a panic because she has lost the incriminating fan. Camille promises to try to find it. Anna appears and is surprised to see Danilo, to whom she was once engaged. Danilo had wanted to marry Anna, who was then a farmer’s daughter, but his uncle would have disinherited him. She bitterly tells him that her millions would now make up for her plebeian blood. Stung, Danilo tells her that she will never again hear him say, “I love you.” She throws down her glove as a challenge and leaves. Zeta comes upon Danilo and urges him to marry Anna, but he refuses. He does, however, promise to keep off all foreign suitors. A “ladies’ choice” dance is announced, and Anna chooses Danilo. He refuses to dance, instead offering to “sell” the dance for 10,000 francs, thus discouraging the Frenchmen. Camille is about to offer the money, but the jealous Valencienne stops him. Meanwhile, Njegus finds the lost fan and hands it to Zeta. Danilo and Anna are left alone, and to the strains of the waltz, she is caught up in his arms.