Act I The Duel
Spain is torn apart by civil war. Count di Luna, the commander of the troops of the Prince of Aragon, is in love with Leonora, a young noblewoman in the queen’s service. Ferrando, the captain of the guard, recounts the story of a Gypsy woman who was burned at the stake years ago for bewitching the count’s infant brother. The Gypsy’s daughter took revenge by kidnapping the boy and—so the story goes—throwing him into the flames where her mother had died. No trace was ever found of the daughter, but di Luna is still searching for her.
Leonora reflects on her love for a man she met before the war and who has now been returning as a troubadour to serenade her. Di Luna has been following her. When the troubadour appears, the two men confront each other and the troubadour reveals his true identity: he is Manrico, leader of the partisan rebel forces. The count challenges him to fight to the death.
Act II The Gypsy
The duel has been fought. Manrico overpowered the count but spared his life. The war has raged on and Manrico, badly wounded, has been nursed back to health by his mother, the Gypsy Azucena. Azucena is the woman di Luna has been looking for. Her life is scarred by the memory of her mother’s death and the terrible revenge she exacted. She tells Manrico that she stole the count’s infant son but the child she murdered was in fact her own. When Manrico demands to know who he truly is, Azucena is evasive; all that matters is the maternal love she has shown him all his life. News arrives that Leonora, believing Manrico dead, is entering a convent. Manrico leaves to find her immediately.
Di Luna plans to storm the convent and take Leonora by force. He tries to seize her, but is prevented by the attack of Manrico and his men. In the ensuing confusion, the lovers escape.
Act III The Gypsy's Son
Di Luna and his army are attacking the fortress where Manrico has taken refuge with Leonora. Azucena is captured and Ferrando recognizes her as the murderer of the count’s brother. Di Luna, realizing he has the means to force his enemy out of the fortress, orders Azucena burnt on a pyre before the walls.
Inside the castle, Manrico and the frightened Leonora are preparing to be married. When news of Azucena’s capture reaches him, he prepares to attack.
Act IV The Execution
Manrico’s army has been defeated and he and Azucena are being held captive. Leonora has escaped and come to the prison. When di Luna orders the execution of both Manrico and Azucena, Leonora offers herself to the count in return for her lover’s life, but secretly takes poison.
Manrico tries to comfort Azucena with memories of their former happiness. Leonora tells Manrico that he is saved, urging him to escape. He understands the bargain she has made and furiously denounces her. But the poison is already taking effect. Leonora dies in his arms. Di Luna arrives in time to witness her death and sends Manrico to his execution. Azucena cries out that her mother is avenged: di Luna has killed his own brother.