Paris, 1800s – Violetta Valéry, a famous courtesan hosts a lavish party with her current lover, Baron Douphol. She is introduced to Alfredo Germont, who comes from a reputable family. Alfredo has admired Violetta from afar for a long time. The guests request that Alfredo gives a toast and he complies, singing the famous “Drinking Song,” in celebration of true love.
Violetta knows that she is terminally ill and she begins to feel faint. She requests that her guests continue dancing in the next room so that she may rest. Alfredo enters and proclaims his love for Violetta. At first she refuses his advances, in her life as a courtesan she cannot accept true love. But she is finally moved by Alfredo; giving him a flower, she tells him to visit her again when it is wilted. Violetta realizes that she desires to experience authentic love.
Three months later, Violetta now lives with Alfredo in the countryside outside of Paris; she has completely abandoned her previous life. Even when she receives an invitation to a ball in Paris, she ignores it. When speaking with Violetta’s maid, Annina, Alfredo discovers that their new life is possible because Violetta has sold all of her belongings. Upset at this discovery, Alfredo decides to leave for Paris to earn back all of the money Violetta lost.
While Alfredo is gone, Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, visits Violetta. Giorgio explains that his daughter is unable to get married because Violetta’s reputation is spoiling their family’s name. He demands that Violetta leaves Alfredo. At first, Violetta refuses, professing her unconditional love for Alfredo. However, once Giorgio explains that Violetta and Alfredo do not have a future together, Violetta agrees to leave Alfredo, believing that it is in the best interest of Alfredo. Violetta writes Alfredo a note, leaves for Paris, and decides to attend the ball after all.
Upon Alfredo’s return from Paris, he is distraught by Violetta’s departure. When he finds the invitation to the ball, Alfredo believes that Violetta has betrayed him and left him in order to return to her old life. Giorgio comforts Alfredo in his despair.
Alfredo decides to go to the ball and confront Violetta. When he arrives, he sees Violetta with Baron Douphol. Alfredo challenges Baron Douphol to gamble against him and Alfredo wins a large sum of money. Alfredo announces that he will take Violetta home with him, but Violetta says that she now loves Baron Douphol. In a fit of rage, Alfredo throws his winnings at Violetta, yelling to the crowd that he no longer owes her anything. Entering at this time, Giorgio, knowing the true meaning of this scene, scolds Alfredo for his behavior.
Violetta’s illness has advanced; her doctor says that she does not have much time left. Violetta receives a letter from Giorgio, stating that he was filled with guilt and told Alfredo the reason for Violetta’s departure. Alfredo bursts into Violetta’s apartment, filling Violetta with a final burst of joy before she dies in Alfredo’s arms.