Violetta, a courtesan under the protection of Baron Duphol, is entertaining; although she is a very sick woman, she insists upon leading a hectic social life. She is introduced to Alfredo Germont, who has been in love with her for some time, and is leading her guests off to dance when she feels faint; she has to withdraw. Alfredo joins her, protesting his love, which she gently discourages. After the party has finally broken up, Violetta wonders if Alfredo is the true love of her dreams; in the end, however, she believes that her death must come in the vortex of hollow pleasures that make up her life.
A country house near the city, three months later
Violetta and Alfredo are now living together. When he learns from her maid that Violetta has sold her possessions to pay their debts, Alfredo returns to the city to raise the necessary money. In his absence, Violetta receives an unexpected call from Alfredo’s father. He begs her to break off the attachment; otherwise his daughter’s marriage into a respectable family will be threatened. Violetta finally agrees and, when Germont has left, writes a farewell note. Alfredo returns and Violetta arranges for him to be given the note after she has gone. When he reads it he refuses the consolation of his father, who has been watching from the garden, and rushes back to the city to avenge himself for what he believes to be a betrayal.
Flora’s house in the city, the same night
A party is in progress, enlivened with a band of gypsies who tell fortunes and sing of bullfights. Alfredo appears alone, and then Violetta escorted by Baron Duphol. The two men play cards and Alfredo wins. When she has an opportunity, Violetta sees Alfredo alone and begs him to avoid a duel with the Baron; pressed by Alfredo, she declares she loves the Baron. In a fury, Alfredo summons the guests to witness the repayment of his debts and flings his winnings at her The Baron challenges him. Germont enters in time to witness his son’s outburst and reproaches him for it.
Violetta’s bedroom, a few months later
The doctor tells Annina that her mistress is dying. Violetta reads a letter from Germont telling her that Alfredo now knows her sacrifice and is returning to beg her forgiveness. The lovers are reunited and Germont arrives to give his blessing; but it is too late and Violetta dies.