The young artist Julien tries to persuade Louise to elope with him, but her mother intervenes, joined by her father, when he returns from work. In a street scene at the foot of Montmartre, hawkers and passers-by mingle. Julien and his friends seek out the place where Louise works, and she and Julien argue. In a further scene Julien serenades her, as she works with the other seamstresses, now persuading her to choose freedom. In the third act the couple is together, with Louise then crowned muse of Montmartre. She answers now her mother’s call to return home, since her father is ill and needs her. Her parents try to go back on their promise to allow her freedom, but she chooses again to leave them, answering the call of Paris, cursed by her father.
The subject of Louise is in accordance with contemporary fashions of realism. Set in working-class Paris, it includes elements characteristic enough of the streets and allows its heroine to choose free love rather than marriage. One of the best-known arias from the work is Louise’s third-act protestation of love, Depuis le jour où je me suis donnée (Since the day I gave myself). Rather less frequently heard is her father’s final scene with her, urging compliance.