The Spirits of wine celebrate as Hoffmann’s Muse descends among them. She declares her jealousy of Stella, the beautiful opera star, who she believes threatens her own supremacy over Hoffmann’s soul. She calls on the spirits to assist her in disposing of Stella’s unwanted influence. The Muse herself assumes the guise of Nicklausse, companion to Hoffmann.
A tavern, deserted at first. Counsellor Lindorf arrives and intercepts a letter Stella has written to Hoffmann. It contains the key to her dressing room.
The students enter, thirsty for refreshments during the interval of Don Giovanni. Hoffmann arrives, accompanied by Nicklausse. He is greatly affected by thoughts of Stella, whom he too has been watching at the opera. Although his friends manage to coax him into telling one of his stories — the tale of Kleinzach the dwarf — he cannot keep his mind off Stella’s captivating beauty.
Lindorf and Hoffmann come face to face and exchange insults. Hoffmann tells his friends that whenever he encounters Lindorf he is beset by misfortune, and this reflection prompts him to relate the tales of his three loves.