During a reception at the house of Violetta Valéry, Viscount Gaston de Létorières introduces Violetta to Alfred Germont, her ardent admirer. At table, Gaston proposes a toast to the power of love, and Violetta replies extolling a life of pleasure and lightheartedness. The guests pass into the ballroom, where the dancing starts, but Violetta remains behind, overcome by a sudden illness. Alfred stays with her and gently reproaches her for the frivolous life she leads. He confesses his love, but Violetta replies that she is incapable of returning that love. Even so, the feelings she has unwittingly aroused in Alfred have deeply disturbed her; she gives him a flower and tells him to come back when it has faded. At dawn, after all the guests have left, Violetta feels her heart swell with tenderness for Alfred, and she realizes there is no escaping the call of love.
Act II, Scene 1
Alfred and Violetta have settled down near Paris in a country house where they are living in happy seclusion. Alfred comes in from the hunt and, deeply moved, reflects on the great proof of love Violetta has given him. At this moment, Annina, Violetta’s maid, reveals that Violetta has had to sell her horses and all her precious furniture in order to meet household expenses. Alfred decides to go to Paris to find a solution to this disastrous situation. Violetta is surprised by his hasty departure and tosses away a letter she has received from her friend Flora, containing an invitation to a costume ball to be held that same evening. George Germont, Alfred’s father, is announced. The elder Germont accuses her of having seduced and ruined his son, and Violetta, as her only reply, shows him the deed of sale of all her belongings. The elder Germont then appeals to her nobility of heart: he begs her to give up Alfred so that Alfred’s sister can get married, which is impossible as long as Alfred and Violetta continue their scandalous affair. Violetta hesitates, but in the end yields to the elder Germont’s pleadings, promising that she will tell Alfred she no longer loves him. In fact, upon his return, Alfred surprises her in the act of writing him a farewell letter. He tells her that his father is coming to pay her a visit, unaware that the visit has already taken place. Violetta sees this as an excuse to withdraw, after taking Alfred in her arms and pouring out all her love for him. Before Alfred has time to gather his thoughts, he receives Violetta’s letter at the very moment his father reappears to comfort him and persuade him to return home.
Act II, Scene 2
Flora’s house. Flora is surrounded by her numerous admirers, they are talking about Alfred and Violetta having left each other. The guests appear in fancy dress and the party begins. Alfred also appears and goes over to the gambling table, when Violetta enters accompanied by Baron Douphol. She is flustered at the sight of her lover, who starts to gamble, winning in continuation. Baron Douphol also plays and loses to Alfred. Leaving the gambling table to go and dine with his friends, Alfred offers the Baron the possibility of recouping his losses in any way he chooses. Violetta comes over to Alfred and pleads with him to leave the party because his life is in danger. Alfred replies that he will leave only if she leaves with him. Violetta refuses, and in order not to break her promise to the elder Germont, she says she is the Baron’s mistress. Blind with rage and jealousy, Alfred calls everyone into the room: he wants them all to see that Violetta has been paid off and, choking with anger, he flings a purse of gold at her feet.
This gesture arouses general indignation, especially on the part of the elder Germont, who arrives at that moment and is the only one who knows the real sacrifice Violetta has made. Recovering from the shock, Violetta once again gives vent to all her feelings of love for Alfred who, stricken with remorse for his impulsive gesture, finds himself challenged to a duel by the Baron.
Violetta’s house in Paris. Violetta is in bed, sick. She has no hopes of recovery. The doctor confides to the loyal Annina that she has only a few hours to live. He tries to comfort Violetta as the sounds of Carnival merrymaking are heard in the street. Violetta’s thoughts turn to the needy and suffering, and she sends Annina off with money for the poor. Left alone, Violetta rereads the letter she has received from the elder Germont in which he tells her that Alfred, learning of her sacrifice, is coming to ask her forgiveness. When he arrives, the two lovers fall into each other’s arms and, remembering the happy days they have spent together, dream of the further happiness that awaits them for all the rest of their lives. Violetta longs to get well, to live, to be happy, and to love, but the excitement proves to be too great and she collapses. She senses that her illness is mortal and gently chides the elder Germont for having come too late. Making one last effort, she gives Alfred a locket containing her portrait, after which she gently expires in her grief-stricken lover’s arms.