In her Paris salon, the courtesan Violetta Valéry greets party guests, including Flora Bervoix, the Marquis d’Obigny, Baron Douphol, and Gastone, who introduces a new admirer, Alfredo. This young man, having adored Violetta from afar, joins her in a drinking song (Brindisi: “Libiamo”). An orchestra is heard in the next room, but as guests move there to dance, Violetta suffers a fainting spell, sending her guests on ahead and going to her parlor to recover. Alfredo enters, and since they are alone, confesses his love (“Un dì felice”). At first Violetta protests that love means nothing to her. But something about his sincerity touches her and she promises to meet him the next day. After the guests have gone, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the man she could love (“Ah, fors’è lui”). But she decides she wants freedom (“Sempre libera”), though Alfredo’s voice, heard outside, argues in favor of romance.
INTERMISSION 20 MINUTES
Some months later, Alfredo and Violetta are living in a country house near Paris, where he praises their contentment (“De’ miei bollenti spiriti”). But when the maid Annina reveals that Violetta has pawned her jewels to keep the house, Alfredo leaves for the city to settle matters at his own cost. Violetta comes looking for him and finds an invitation from Flora to a party that night. Violetta has no intention of going back to her old life, but trouble intrudes with the appearance of Alfredo’s father, Germont. Though impressed by Violetta’s ladylike manners, he demands she renounce his son: the scandal of Alfredo’s affair with her has threatened his daughter’s engagement (“Pura siccome un angelo”). Violetta says she cannot leave Alfredo, but Germont eventually convinces her (“Dite alla giovine”). Alone, the desolate Violetta sends a message to Flora that she will attend the party and begins a farewell note to Alfredo. He returns, surprising her, and she can barely control herself as she reminds him of how deeply she loves him (“Amami, Alfredo”) before she rushes out. A servant hands Alfredo the farewell note as Germont returns to console his son with reminders of family life in Provence (“Di Provenza”). But Alfredo, seeing Flora’s invitation, suspects Violetta has left him for another lover. Furious, he determines to confront her at the party.
At her soirée that evening, Flora learns from the Marquis that Violetta and Alfredo have split up, then clears the floor for the hired entertainers, who perform for the guests (“E Piquillo un bel gagliardo”). Soon Alfredo strides in, making bitter comments about love and gambling recklessly. Violetta arrives with the Baron, who challenges Alfredo to a card game and loses a small fortune to him. Everyone goes in to dinner, but Violetta wants Alfredo to stay behind and talk. Fearful of the Baron’s anger, she asks Alfredo to leave, but he misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit she loves the Baron instead. Crushed, Violetta pretends she does. Alfredo calls in the others, denounces his former love, and hurls his winnings at her feet (“Questa donna conoscete?”). Germont enters and denounces his son’s petulant behavior. The guests rebuke Alfredo and the Baron challenges him to a duel.
INTERMISSION 20 MINUTES
In Violetta’s bedroom six months later, Doctor Grenvil tells Annina that her mistress does not have long to live: tuberculosis has claimed her. Alone, Violetta reads a letter from Germont saying the Baron was only wounded in the duel with Alfredo, who knows all and is on his way to beg her pardon. But Violetta senses it is too late (“Addio del passato”). Paris is celebrating Mardi Gras and, after revelers pass outside, Annina rushes in to announce Alfredo. The lovers ecstatically plan to leave Paris forever (“Parigi, o cara”). Germont enters with the Doctor before Violetta is seized with a last resurgence of strength. Feeling life return, she staggers and falls dead in Alfredo’s arms.