Vienna, in the early years of the reign of Empress María Theresa, in the chamber of Her Imperial Highness the Marschallin Princess Werdenberg, are the noble woman and her passionate lover, Count Octavian. The Marschallin has a feeling that love is going to vanish with time and, between sad and resigned, she foresees the separation. As they get ready to have breakfast they interrupted by a rumor on the entrance hall. The Marschallin gets startled and orders Octavian to hide immediately, but her fear vanishes when she recognizes her cousin’s voice, Baron Ochs, old pompous with womanizing pretentions, who thinks of himself as heartbreaker. Octavian, now dressed as a maid, introduces herself to the admiration and surprise of the Marschallin. The Baron has arrived to announce his wedding with young Sophie, the daughter of the sumptuous and recently prosperous trader Faninal, to her cousin, asking her to to appoint a member of the family to preset to his fiancée, as the etiquette requires, the symbolic silver rose that represents the pledge of their betrothal. The Marschallin prepares for her grooming during which, as it is use at the time, the women of lineage granted hearing. An Italian tenor and a flutist interpret a beautiful madrigal, interrupted abruptly by the discussion of the Baron and his Notary about the formalities of the nuptial contract. In addition, Annina and Valzacchi, two schemers, introduce themselves and offer their services to the Baron. When the grooming is over, the Marschallin reflects on love and youth. Octavian comes back dressed as a man, resuming the interrupt conversation in which the Marschallin expresses her doubts, jealousy and fears. Octavian, a little bewildered, takes off. The Marschallin stays very upset; she realizes she has let go Octavian without a kiss goodbye and regrets it. She asks her footmen to rush for him, but he is already gone. She then gives one of her servants the box with the silver rose to take to Octavian’s house, fulfilling this way the promise she did to the Baron.
In the hall of Herr Faninal, Sophie and her governess Marianne wait anxiously for the gentleman with the rose. Faninal could not be happier with the marriage of his daughter with a real nobleman. Octavian arrives with his entourage and solemnly handles Sophie the symbolic rose. The two young boys look at each other and before even start talking, they feel the strange excitement of a rising love. Soon enough arrives Faninal along with the Baron, to whom he introduces his daughter. The Baron Ochs attitude is so rude, Sophie soon realizes is not him to which she desires to be married, but Octavian. Soon tension grows and Octavian ends up wounding the Baron in a challenge. Faninal desperately warns Sophie: either she gets married to the Baron or he will lock her on a convent. Octavian buys the will of the cunning Valzacchi and through Annina sends a letter to the Baron in which the Marschallin’s maid asks him for a date. Ochs is happy to receive the letter; he forgets the pain and prepares for the new love conquest.
In a restaurant in the suburbs of Vienna, the place of Ochs and the pretended maid’s date, Annina and Valzacchi get the scene ready for the huge prank Octavian has prepared for Ochs. Suspicious characters with sinister faces, should appear at the right moment, obeying a signal, to scare and punish the Baron. Little after this, Ochs arrives with Octavian dressed as Mariandel. The hidden characters constantly interrupt the conversation. Ochs believes to be hallucinating, but he ask for help to the police and the Commissioner arrives with many guards. Faninal and Sophie, also arrive, as part of Octavian’s plot, along with the unexpected Marschallin, called by Ochs. Octavian is catch unaware by the Fledemarshallin’s presence, and her presence creates difficulties in the situation. Ochs thinks he is safe, since everything seems to have been a Viennese farce. He recovers his composure and decides to let everything go and forgive it all, but the Marschallin vigorously dismisses him. Then she, Octavian and Sophie are left alone. The young boy is confuse, but the Marschallin, understanding the situation, calms him down. She already have a premonition about this ending. Octavian, confused by his feelings, does not entirely comprehends the huge dignity of the Feldermarschallin’s soul. She leaves, but comes back in brief to look for Faninal. Behind them, leave also the two young lovers, feeling as in a dream.