Il tabarro (The cloak) is the first opera in Puccini’s Il trittico, which also comprises of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. The story is set on a barge on the river Seine in Paris and the music is continually intertwined with the atmosphere of a hot Paris evening, created by the organ-grinder, and a song vendor whose songs, particularly the story of Mimi, intertwine with the action, sometimes at odds with their feelings and sometimes mirroring them. The barge owner, Michele, is troubled by the recent coldness from his wife, Giorgetta. They have arrived and moored in Paris to unload their cargo, with the help of the Stevedores. Giorgetta gives wine to the workers, in thanks for their back-breaking labor, just as an organ-grinder arrives, and Luigi, one of the young workers throws him a coin so they can dance. Taking over from Tinca, who cannot dance in time, Luigi dances closely with Giorgetta. As Michele returns they break apart, and the workers leave. Michele and Giorgetta have a heated conversation; she longs for more passion in the relationship, and says she would even prefer beatings to silence.
La Frugola (called ‘the rummager’) comes to find her husband, il Talpa, who has been drinking in the cabin with the other workers. Luigi intervenes on a debate between Frugola and Talpa about the importance of drinking wine. He claims it is better not to think deeply about life because it is all drudgery and love is not free but must be stolen. Giorgetta tells of how she longs to live free in Paris. The workers leave to continue their drinking and Luigi and Giorgetta are finally alone. Michele chances on their meeting so Giorgetta cuts it short, agreeing to meet Luigi later, and offering the signal of a lit match. Michele returns with a lantern and asks Giorgetta to come to bed. He is suspicious of the meeting he interrupted and wants to know why she no longer loves him. He recalls the joy of a year ago, when their baby was still alive lying beside them, and he could gather them in his cloak. It is too much for Giorgetta to bear and she begs him to be quiet. She goes into the cabin and Michele watches her. She is not going to bed as she said, she is waiting for someone. He lights his pipe. Luigi mistakes the flame for the signal from Giorgetta and rushes to get into the cabin. Michele catches him, knowing that his suspicion was true, and he strangles him. He hides him in his cloak and when Giorgetta comes out to see what the commotion is he reveals what he has done.