Opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the novel
and play “La dame aux Camélias” by Alexandre Dumas-II
The plot takes place in Paris and in its surroundings, around the year 1950 (in the libretto, the action is set around 1700). The action of the first act takes place in August, the one of the second in January and the one of the third in February.
Violetta Valéry, a young courtesan, famous in the Parisian high society, takes part together with her friends in the ball of another courtesan, Flora Bervoix. Here, Gaston, Viscount of Letorières, introduces a new admirer to her, Alfredo Germont. He confesses that the moment he saw her for the first time he was fascinated by her beauty and intelligence, but he has never had the courage to tell her. He toasts in her honour and whispers words of love, warning her that her adventurous life will ruin her health. Violetta knows this, because she is suffering from tuberculosis, but she does not accept the truth and prefers to continue living in luxury and endless parties.
Suddenly, she almost faints, everyone jump in to help, but she asks them to go away. The two remain for a few moments alone, and Alfredo sincerely declares his love for her. At first she treats him with indifference, trying to reject him, but then realizes that she actually never lived true love and wonders whether this provincial, honest young man will be able to convince her to love him.
To have the chance to talk to him again, she gives him her favourite flower, a camellia, telling him to return it when it has faded, in hope that they will meet soon.
Violetta and Alfredo have already been together for three months and they have withdrawn to a country house to escape the city’s hustle and bustle. Here they are happy and free to live their love far from fashionable parties. Alfredo discovers, however, that their stay in this house is very expensive. He learns that his girlfriend secretly sells all her properties to secure her livelihood and, upset that he had not thought of this aspect of their relationship, he decides to go to Paris to raise money.
Meanwhile, Violetta receives an invitation to a ball organized by her friend Flora. But she abandoned that lifestyle, gave up all parties for Alfredo’s sake and no longer wishes to assume the role of a courtesan. In the absence of Alfredo, his father Giorgio Germont arrives at the house. Violetta and Alfredo had hoped that her promise to give up her life as a courtesan would persuade Germont to bless their relationship. Even though he discovers that Violetta is now a different woman, a distinguished lady, a good and faithful person, Giorgio Germont asks her the impossible: to break up with his son. At first, Violetta refuses, but then she finds out that Alfredo has a sister who is getting married and her fiancé would never accept to form an alliance with a family in disgrace. Violetta understands that her status as a courtesan and her relationship with Alfredo could compromise the young girl’s life. Grieved, she decides to give up Alfredo and asks Germont to promise her that after she dies, he will explain to his son the reason why she leaves him now.
Alfredo receives a letter of separation from Violetta. He also sees Flora’s invitation to the ball and angrily decides to go there to ask her for some explanations.
At Flora’s ball, people already talk about Violetta’s break up with Alfredo. Violetta arrives accompanied by Baron Douphol. Blinded by jealousy, Alfredo appears followed by his father, who tries to temper him. Extremely troubled by the encounter with Alfredo, Violetta finds herself in a tense situation and asks to speak to him. He is now at the game table where he is winning several games in a row.
Thinking that the Baron is Violetta’s new lover, Alfredo challenges him to play and rebukes him repeatedly. When everyone else retire, Alfredo secretly asks Violetta to run away with him. She refuses, hiding the promise she had made to his father and she lies to him that her new lover is Baron Douphol. In anger, Alfredo publicly humiliates Violetta, throwing a bag of money at her feet and saying he paid her. Giorgio Germont, who witnessed the scene, along with everyone else, violently rebukes him and the Baron challenges him to a duel.
After she has spent all her money, Violetta lives her last moments in a modest Paris apartment. The only ones who stay by her side are her faithful servant Annina and a friend, Dr. Grenvil. He tells Annina that Violetta has merely a few hours to live. The carnival is underway in the streets of Paris and occasionally noises from the party can be heard. Violetta sacrifices her last money, sending Annina to offer them to the poor. Later, she receives a letter from Giorgio Germont.
Full of remorse, he confesses that he had written to his son about her sacrifice and that they will soon come to visit her. Their return occurs too late, because Violetta is going through the final stages of her illness. Alfredo confesses once more his love for Violetta, who dies comforted by the thought that she has received the forgiveness of the man she loved.