Advocates of comedy, drama, romance, and farce argue with one another as to which piece of theatre should be performed. The eccentrics end the argument by announcing the performance of The Love for Three Oranges.
Truffaldino is summoned to amuse the Prince, as only laughter can cure the King’s son of his melancholy. Yet all of Truffaldino’s efforts are in vein. Meanwhile, the benevolent magician Celio is losing to the evil sorceress Fata Morgana in the card game that is to decide the fate of the Prince. The scheming minister Leander and Princess Clarice, the King’s niece, plot to seize the throne.
During an altercation with Truffaldino, Fata Morgana is knocked to the ground, at which sight the Prince finally breaks out in healing peals of laughter. The sorceress places a curse on the Prince: the love for three oranges. Consumed with longing, the Prince, accompanied by Truffaldino, sets out to find the fruits.
The three oranges are being guarded by a meanspirited cook, who is then deprived of the oranges by means of a trick. Driven by thirst, Truffaldino opens one of the oranges. From it emerges the Princess Linetta, who immediately begs for water and dies of thirst. The same thing happens with the second orange, from which the Princess Nicoletta emerges and also dies of thirst. The Prince opens the third orange and there encounters Princess Ninetta, with whom he immediately falls in love. The eccentrics bring water and Ninetta is saved. While the Prince sets off to tell his father of his betrothal, the waiting Ninetta is turned into a rat by Fata Morgana. In Ninetta’s stead, Fata Morgana’s assistant Smeraldine, disguised as a bride, awaits the return of the Prince.
Ninetta the rat creates trouble at the false wedding. The eccentrics bring the piece to a happy conclusion: the rat is turned back into Princess Ninetta, the evildoers’ plot is revealed, and nothing stands in the way of the marriage between the Prince and Princess.