A room in Violetta's house in Paris
A brilliant party is in progress and Violetta is receiving her guests. One of them begs leave to introduce a friend, Alfredo Germont, who has long admired her from afar. Baron Douphol, Violetta's current protector, takes a dislike to Alfredo and refuses to propose the toast when the wine is poured. Instead Alfredo proposes the toast - to love. Violetta answers that love, like all things, must fade: it is best to enjoy the pleasures of the fleeting moment.
The guests move into another room to dance but Violetta, who had been ill, suddenly feels faint and begs them to go on without her. Only Alfredo remains, anxious about her. He tells her he has loved her from the moment he first saw her a year ago. Violetta warns him not to look to her for love, since she has never experienced it. She tells him to leave and think of her no more, but gives him a flower with permission to return it when it has faded. "That will be tomorrow!" exclaims Alfredo, and she agrees. Alfredo goes, followed shortly afterwards by the other guests.
Left alone, Violetta begins to wonder whether she could love Alfredo, but rejects the possibility. A woman in her position cannot afford such luxuries. She will keep her place in the social whirl of Paris and forget about serious affairs of the heart. Under the balcony Alfredo's voice can be heard repeating his declaration of love.
Scene 1: A country house near Paris
Alfredo's passion has won the day. Three months later he and Violetta, deeply in love, have cut themselves off completely from fashionable. life. Alfredo's joy is disturbed one morning when he learns from Violetta's maid Annina that Violetta has had to sell her last possessions, because they have been living on her money which is now all gone. He rushes off to Paris to see what he can do to raise some money, leaving a message for Violetta. She comes in with an invitation from Flora, one of her fashionable friends, which she puts aside laughing, not intending to accept.
Alfredo's father suddenly appears and accuses her of having ruined his son. When she proves to him that all the money spent has been hers he is more polite, but goes on to ask her to give up Alfredo because the liaison is spoiling his daughter's marriage prospects. Broken-hearted, she agrees - thereby winning his deep admiration. They agree that the only way she can convince Alfredo that their idyll is at at end is to tell him she no longer loves him.
Telling Germont to wait in the garden to be ready to comfort Alfredo, she begins a letter to him telling him of her decision. He arrives back before she has finished. Somewhat to his astonishment she bids him a tearful farewell, telling him to love her always as she loves him.
A few minutes after her departure he receives her note by a messenger and understands that she has left for ever. His father appears and tries to comfort him, reminding him of his happy childhood in far Provence. Alfredo refuses to be comforted and, seeing Flora's invitation, assumes that Violetta will be returning to her former life and to the baron. He determines to follow her.
Scene 2: A room in Flora's house
Another party is taking place. Dancers dressed as matadors and Spanish gypsies entertain the company and tell their fortunes.
Alfredo arrives alone, followed shortly afterwards by Violetta accompanied by the jealous baron who forbids her to speak a word to Alfredo. The men begin to play cards and Alfredo wins, remarking bitterly that he is unlucky at love but lucky at cards. Drawn by their mutual antagonism he and the baron begin to play against each other. Their rivalry increases as Alfredo continues to win.
Violetta watches, full of anguish. When the guests retire to another room for supper she begs Alfredo to stay for a moment and entreats him not to anger the baron. Alfredo refuses to believe that her concern is for him rather than the baron, particularly when she refuses his request to leave at once with him. She tells him she has sworn to avoid him and he assumes that only the baron could have had the power to extort such a promise from her. To avoid telling him the truth she says she loves the baron.
Desperate, Alfredo calls the others back and throws his winnings at Violetta, calling them to witness that he has now repaid all his debts to her. Everyone turns on him for his unkindness to Violetta and even his father, who comes in at this point, reproves him for insulting a lady. Coming to his senses Alfredo himself is horrified by what he has done. The baron challenges him to a duel for his discourtesy.
Violetta, overcome by weakness and emotion, assures Alfredo that she does not deserve his scornful treatment; she still loves him and one day he will be filled with remorse at what he has done.
Violetta is alone except for her maid Annina. She is practically penniless and dying of the consumption which has been racking her. A carnival is taking place in the streets outside while she lies in bed.
She has had a letter from Germont which she reads through again: Alfredo has wounded the baron in a duel and had to leave the country for a while. Germont has told him of Violetta's sacrifice and he is coming back to ask her forgiveness. But Violetta knows that she has little time left and that her days of love with Alfredo are over.
He arrives and they have an ecstatic reunion. Their love is stronger than ever and they declare their intention of leaving Paris forever. But all this emotion is too much for Violetta and she collapses. Alfredo, looking at her closely for the first time, realises the terrible truth that she is dying. She tries to pretend that this is not so by getting up and dressing, but she is too weak and falls to the floor, crying out bitterly against the cruel fate of dying so young just when her hopes had been about to be fulfilled.
Germont arrives with the doctor, ready to embrace her as a daughter. When he too realises her real condition he is struck by remorse at having caused her so much unhappiness. She gives Alfredo a portrait of herself as a keepsake and tells him to marry some pure young girl and be happy. She rises to her feet, feeling a strange new strength, but it is only the last remission of her illness which precedes death. She collapses lifeless, surrounded by those she holds dearest in the world.