In the small town of Brachen, Switzerland, the townspeople are poor, having fallen on hard times. They are told that Claire Zachanassian, a former resident and now the world's richest woman (by virtue of many fortunate marriages), will pay a visit. The townspeople see Claire as their last hope. Claire, who has an artificial leg, arrives in a puff of train steam, carried by Jacob Chicken and Louis Perch (freed from jail by Claire). She is escorted by her entourage: the falsetto-singing eunuchs Lenny and Benny, her butler Rudi and her latest much-younger husband Evgeny.
Anton, the town shopkeeper and Claire's former lover still has feelings for her, and thinks that they might renew their romance. Although Claire and Anton reminisce about their youthful affair, and the Young Anton and Young Claire dreamily dance, Claire soon reveals her macabre plan. She explains that she was pregnant by Anton as a teen, but, due to Anton's false testimony, was forced to leave the town. She explains that the true purpose of her visit is to seek revenge, and offers to give the townspeople a billion dollars if they kill Anton.
The townspeople are at first repelled but gradually rationalize their impending acquiescence to Claire's wishes, due to their desire for material possessions. Anton ultimately realizes he was to blame for the misery that Claire endured, and accepts responsibility. He and his family take one last joyful car-ride together, and Claire and Anton make peace with the fate to come. The townspeople kill Anton.
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