Hoffmann, a poet and composer, is in love with the prima donna Stella. As the opera begins, she is appearing in her most famous role: Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni. Hoffmann's Muse declares that she will win back the artist and protect him from any further amorous obsessions. In order to do so, she will assume the identity of Hoffmann's friend Nicklausse.
Councillor Lindorf also desires the diva Stella, and he bribes her servant Andres into giving him a letter addressed to Hoffmann which contains the key to her dressing room. As the curtain falls on Act I of Don Giovanni, Luther and his waiters hurriedly prepare for the arrival of Hoffmann and his friends.
Hoffmann is in an agitated state of mind, but is soon persuaded to sing the ballad of Kleinzack. While doing so, he is distracted and recalls his first love. His friends bring him back to reality and he finishes the song. Suddenly, Hoffmann sees Lindorf and a heated argument develops between them. Hoffmann reveals that Lindorf has always brought him bad luck. When three of the poet's friends boast about their mistresses, Hoffmann declares that Stella embodies three types of woman: the young girl, the artist and the courtesan. Hoffman asks his friends if they would like to hear about three of his past loves. Despite Luther's warning that the curtain is about to rise on Act II of Don Giovanni, the crowd fill their glasses and prepare to listen to Hoffmann's tales.