Desiree Armfeldt is a prominent and glamorous theatre actress who had a brief love affair with Fredrik Egerman in the past, Desiree got pregnant and had a daughther from Frederik, although she never told this to Frederik.
Desiree named her daughther Frederika. Madame Armfeldt, Desiree's mother, has taken over the care of Desiree's daughter Fredrika while Desiree prefers to live "The Glamorous Life". Fredrika misses her mother, but Desiree continually puts off going to see her.
After the years goes by, Desiree is reduced to touring in small towns. She is now performing near Fredrik's home. Frederik goes to see the play with her young wife Anne. Desiree and Frederick both see each other during the play.
That night, as Fredrik remembers his past with Desiree, he sneaks out to see her; the two share a happy but strained reunion in Desiree's apartment, as they "Remember". They reflect on their new lives, and Fredrik tries to explain how much he loves Anne. Desiree responds sarcastically, boasting of her own adultery. Desiree is now seeing the married dragoon, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm.
Upon learning that Fredrik has gone for eleven months without sex, she agrees to accommodate him as a favor for an old friend. Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm proclaims his unannounced arrival in Desiree's apartment in his typical booming voice. Fredrik and Desiree fool the gullible Count into believing that their disheveled appearance was entirely innocent, but he is still suspicious.
Later on, Frederik is astonished to learn the name of Desiree's daugther.
At a night party, Frederik and Desiree met again. Frederik's wife went to romance the young Henrik. Henrik and Anne are in love and she leaves her husband. At dinner Desiree's asks Frederik if he still wants to be "rescued" from his life. Fredrik answers honestly that he loves Desiree, but only as a dream. Hurt and bitter, Desiree can only reflect on the nature of her life ("Send in the Clowns").
But finally Frederik confesses his love for Desiree, acknowledges that Fredrika is his daughter, and the two promise to start a new life together ("Finale").
Desiree is portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones as a ravishing and elegant actress. But, taking apart that appearance, Desiree is desperate and tired of touring and she longs to be reunited with her former (now married) lover.
She is in love with Frederik and, even if she tries to be contained for the sake of appearances, she is eager to find happiness with him.
- "The Glamorous Life": Fredrika Armfeldt, Desiree Armfeldt, Madame Armfeldt and Quintet sing in this number. Desiree explains why she likes to live "The Glamorous Life".
- "You Must Meet My Wife": In Desiree's apartment, Desiree Armfeldt and Fredrik Egerman shares their thoughts about their actual lovers.
- "The World Won't End/Every Day a Little Death (reprise)": Desiree and Countess Charlotte try to prevent the Count Carl-Magnus to shoot Henrik and Anna. Desiree and the Countess both lament the pains of marriage and the strange behavior of married people
- "Send in the Clowns" (Reprise)": Desiree Armfeldt and Fredrik Egerman sing for their love and their new life.