Hoffmann’s Muse invites the spirits of wine and beer to help win Hoffmann’s love away from Stella, the opera diva. During a performance of Don Giovanni, Councilor Lindorf intercepts the servant Andrès and buys from him a letter the diva has written to Hoffmann. Lindorf vows to sabotage their rendezvous.
The head waiter, Luther, prepares his waiters for the rush of opera patrons during intermission. The crowd races to the bar, led by Nathanaël and Hermann. They are soon joined by the poet Hoffmann and his friend Nicklausse (the Muse in disguise). Hoffmann entertains the crowd with a song about a dwarf. Then he becomes distracted and sings of the perfect woman. Soon he begins to talk about his loves: Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta...
The inventor Spalanzani gazes at his latest invention, a mechanical doll named Olympia. He frets about the scientist Coppélius, who claims part ownership in Olympia since he created her eyes. Spalanzani finally buys the rights to Olympia from Coppélius, paying his partner off with a bank draft.
Hoffmann is Spalanzani’s new pupil. He buys from Coppélius rose-colored glasses that make Olympia appear to be a real girl.
At a party, Spalanzani asks the love-struck Hoffmann to entertain Olympia while the guests eat. Alone with Olympia, Hoffmann asks for her hand. Coppélius returns in secret, swearing revenge on Spalanzani, whose check was worthless.
A waltz starts, and Hoffmann and Olympia dance, spinning faster and faster. Hoffmann falls to the ground, breaking his glasses. Spalanzani takes Olympia away, but Coppélius finds her and smashes her. A horrified Hoffmann discovers that he has loved a doll.
The widower Crespel has moved his daughter, Antonia (whom Hoffmann has been courting), to Munich; he fears Hoffmann will endanger her frail health by encouraging her to sing. Crespel discovers Antonia in the music room, a room she has been forbidden to enter. He tells his deaf servant Frantz that no one may enter the house when he is gone, but Frantz misunderstands and lets Hoffmann in. Reunited with Hoffmann, Antonia sings for him. Hearing her father return, she runs from the room and Hoffmann hides.
Dr. Miracle appears. He offers a magic potion to restore Antonia to health, but Crespel (who believes Dr. Miracle is responsible for the death of his wife, a famous singer) angrily orders him to leave.
Hoffmann, who now understands that singing will kill Antonia, vows to save her. After Crespel leaves, he tells Antonia that they’ll flee together, but that she must never sing again. Antonia reluctantly agrees. Dr. Miracle appears to Antonia. He brings to life a portrait of her mother, who urges Antonia to sing with her—despite all the men in her life, who want her silent. Antonia yields to her mother’s request and sings until she collapses. Crespel finds her. When Hoffmann and Nicklausse enter, Crespel blames the poet for her death.
In her Venetian palace, the courtesan Giulietta entertains Hoffmann and Nicklausse. Giulietta’s lover Schlemil, who keeps the key to her chamber, arrives, and the company leaves to gamble. Nicklausse senses danger and warns Hoffmann against falling in love with Giulietta. Dapertutto, who controls Giulietta, commands her to relieve Hoffmann of his reflection just as she had taken Schlemil’s shadow from him. Giulietta tells Hoffmann that she will give him her heart in exchange for his reflection. Hoffmann agrees and loses his reflection to Giulietta. In order to win the key to Giulietta’s room, Hoffmann fights a duel with Schlemil and kills him. Giulietta sails off with Dapertutto.
Hoffmann finishes his stories, and Nicklausse explains that Stella represents all three of Hoffmann’s loves. Stella arrives to find Hoffmann in a drunken state, and she decides to leave with Councilor Lindorf. Nicklausse, now the Muse, claims the poet, telling him that the ashes of his heart will rekindle his genius.