Algiers 1930s – In the palace, Mustafa declares he no longer loves his wife Elvira. Instead, he desires a more interesting Italian woman to join his harem. Elvira laments that her husband no longer loves her; she yearns to be desired by him again. Mustafa tasks his right hand man, Haly, with finding him a new Italian wife. He also informs Haly that he will give Elvira to his recently acquired Italian slave, Lindoro, as a wife. Lindoro enters, yearning to be reunited with his true love, Isabella.
Elsewhere in Algiers, Isabella has landed her plane in search or her love, Lindoro. She is accompanied by Taddeo. When discovered and captured by Haly, Taddeo says that he is Isabella’s uncle, although truly, he is an unwanted suitor who desires Isabella as well. Regardless, Isabella and Taddeo decide to work together. Haly is overjoyed when he discovers that Isabella is Italian. He decides to bring Isabella to Mustafa so that she can be his new, Italian wife.
Back at the palace, Mustafa tells Lindoro that he can be free and return to Italy, so long as he takes Elvira with him. Lindoro agrees as he does not see any other options but Elvira does not want to help Lindoro to freedom; she still loves Mustafa and does not want to leave. Haly arrives, announcing that he has found a new wife for Mustafa. When Mustafa sees Isabella, he is instantly captivated by her. However, Isabella sees him as an obstacle to overcome. Across the room, she spots her love, Lindoro. To prevent Lindoro from leaving, she convinces Mustafa that he cannot banish his own wife and that he should make Lindoro her personal slave. Mustafa concedes.
Isabella scolds Lindoro for agreeing to leave with Elvira, feeling betrayed. But Lindoro reassures her of his love and they agree to trick Mustafa and escape together. Mustafa appoints Taddeo as his “Grand Kaimakan,” his personal bodyguard, in exchange for his assistance in winning Isabella’s love. Taddeo does not wish for this position but agrees reluctantly.
Isabella prepares to meet Mustafa and gives Elvira advice on how to make her husband desire her again. Once she is ready, she invites in Mustafa for coffee. Mustafa is joined by Taddeo, who does not leave when signaled by a sneeze from Mustafa. Much to Mustafa’s dismay, Isabella invites Elvira to join them for coffee too.
Haly is concerned that Isabella may be too cunning for Mustafa. Later, Taddeo tells Lindoro that he is actually Isabella’s love. Lindoro pretends to concede so that they may plot an escape together. An angry Mustafa enters and Lindoro convinces him that Isabella is truly in love with him. In fact, she is going to appoint him with a great Italian honor, the order of the Pappataci. All Mustafa has to do to fulfill his obligation is eat, drink, sleep and most importantly, ignore everything around him.
As an initiation to Mustafa’s new position, Isabella and Lindoro throw Mustafa a feast. To provoke Mustafa, Isabella and Lindoro leave together. Refusing to break the rules of his new order, Mustafa continues to focus on eating and drinking. Not until it is too late, do Taddeo and Mustafa realize they both have been tricked, and Isabella and Lindoro have escaped. Mustafa decides that Italian women are too cunning for him and he takes back Elvira as his wife.