At the house of Violetta Valéry, a beautiful and famous Parisian courtesan protected by Baron Douphol, a sumptuous party is in progress. Among the guests enters Gastone de Letorières, who introduces Violetta to a silent but passionate admirer of hers: Alfredo Germont. Baron Douphol is irritated by their conversation and refuses to announce the toast, which Alfredo now proposes instead. The dancing begins but Violetta, seized by a fit of coughing, is unable to join the others in the salon and sits down, alone, to regain her strength. As she observes her pale face in the mirror, she notices the presence of Alfredo, who confesses that he has been in love with her for a year. At first she rejects his declaration, but then hands him a camellia, her favorite flower, suggesting that he come back to see her when the flower has withered: the next day. Overcome with joy, Alfredo abandons the festivity, while Violetta goes back to join the others. The party ends with the guests seeing in the first light of dawn. Alone now, Violetta catches herself dreaming of possible genuine love at last. However, she quickly dismisses these fantasies: for her there can be no other destiny but luxury and the pleasures of society life.
Violetta has forfeited her luxurious Parisian demi-monde and is living quietly in the country with Alfredo, who sings of his happiness. But he gets to know from the maid Annina that Violetta has had to sell her jewels to meet the expenses of their new life together. His pride hurt, he decides to go to Paris to procure the necessary money to repay her. Violetta enters. She has just received an invitation to a social gathering from her friend Flora, which she has no intention of accepting, when a visitor is announced. He is Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, who contemptuously asks Violetta to break off her relationship, which could otherwise bring his son to ruin. Violetta defends herself with dignity, showing him that she has sold her jewels rather than ask Alfredo for money. At this, Germont changes his tone, passing from threats to supplication. He begs Violetta to stop seeing Alfredo, so as not to ruin the happiness, this time of his daughter, whose engagement risks being jeopardized by her brother’s scandalous liaison. Violetta tells him that it will cost her dear, but eventually agrees to separate from Alfredo for a while. Germont however requests more: that Violetta abandon Alfredo forever. In despair, she agrees to give up her happiness for the sake of the Germonts. She asks only that after her death Germont reveal to his son the sacrifice she has made. After Germont’s exit, Violetta decides to accept Flora’s invitation and to write a farewell letter to Alfredo. The latter arrives from Paris feeling uneasy, knowing that his father has also called. He is apprehensive about what may happen next. Before leaving, Violetta, who is in a state of agitation, addresses a passionate and tragic appeal to him for love. Shortly afterwards, Alfredo, who has received Violetta’s letter of farewell, collapses into the arms of his father who has just reappeared. Germont tries in vain to console him. Alfredo catches sight of Flora’s invitation on the table. In a jealous fury, he decides to hasten straight back to Paris to look for Violetta and to avenge himself.
The scene is now set in Flora’s house, where a masked ball is being held. A group of ladies dressed as gypsies loudly make their entry, followed by men wearing bullfighters’ costumes. Alfredo arrives as the guests are about to move to the card tables. Violetta also now enters, on the arm of Baron Douphol. The baron, after telling Violetta not to speak to Alfredo, takes his seat at the gaming tables. Alfredo continues to win money there, and taunts the baron with continuous allusions. Then supper is announced and they all leave the room. Violetta re-enters looking extremely anxious, having just sent for Alfredo so that she can have a word with him in private. When he appears, she implores him to leave, but he replies that he will do so only in her company. Violettta is then forced to reveal that she has sworn never to see him again, and since Alfredo demands to know whether it is to the baron that she has made this promise, she lies and, in despair, answers in the affirmative. In a rage, Alfredo takes leave of his senses. Calling all the guests into the room, in contempt he flings at Violetta’s feet the money he has won at cards. Violetta faints and, among the appalled guests, Germont enters and harshly reproaches his son (without yet, though, even now telling him of the sacrifice made by Violetta). His son immediately shows repentance. Violetta recovers and bursts into tears. Alfredo goes out with his father, while Baron Douphol challenges him to a duel.
About one month later. Violetta is by now confined to her bed with consumption. Doctor Grenvil, who has called to examine her, does not hide the truth from Annina that the end is near. Alone again, Violetta reads a letter from Giorgio Germont informing her that he has revealed everything to his son, who is now on his way back to Paris to see her. She is exhausted and disheartened. Outside meanwhile the carnival is in full swing. When Alfredo arrives, the couple embrace and allow themselves to dream of leaving the city together. But Violetta soon realizes that it is too late by now. The elder Germont also returns, treating Violetta by now as a daughter. There is little time left. Violetta gives Alfredo a portrait of herself and exhorts him not feel in any way tied, after her death.With one last fleeting sign of life, she dies, to the consternation of all present.