After an intense siege of tuberculosis which prevented Violetta Valery from any social activity she is giving her first intimate soiree. Because she was unable to have visitors while she was ill, her friends are quite eager to see her. Flora, a friendly rival, and her escort the Marquis d’Obigny cannot help but notice, however, that the Baron Duphol, Violetta’s current lover, is very uncomfortable. The Baron takes special note when Gastone, Violetta’s very good friend, introduces Alfredo Germont, the unknown admirer who sent flowers and bon-bons to her during her illness. Having not known the young man previously, Violetta graciously greets him, then charmingly mingles and invites all to celebrate the evening with champagne. Alfredo is unanimously nominated to make the toast.
The romantic youth sings a tribute to love - actually meaning Violetta, who answers that love is like a flower that ultimately fades.
An orchestra is heard in an adjoining room which prompts Violetta to invite everyone to dance. The hostess has a sudden pain and excuses herself, but her friend and confidante, Annina recognizes Violetta has had a slight spasm. Annina rushes to her aid, with a shawl and medication. Violetta knows her color has drained, but sees Alfredo, who has not joined the other guests. Nonchalantly Violetta dismisses her attack while Alfredo declares his sincere desire to take care of her, his longing admiration and his love. She pleads that she can only offer her friendship in return and asks that he speak no longer of his love. Rebuked, he starts to leave, but she beckons him to wait. Affected by his sincerity, Violetta offers him a camellia and asks that he return when it has faded.
As dawn approaches, the drunk and giddy party-goers depart. Alone, she ponders her life, her freedom, and this new attraction for a young man. But she resolves to continue to be free and carefree…until she recalls his voice and his vow of unending love.
Act Two, Scene One
Three months have passed since Alfredo and Violetta left the mad-cap life of Paris for a country house, just outside the city. She has offered him deep love, and he has given her the only true happiness she has known. Under his daily care, she has gained strength, and he, great joy. But this idyllic existence is interrupted when Alfredo learns from Annina that Violetta has been selling her jewels and other possessions to meet their expenses. He leaves immediately for Paris to seek financial aid of his own. Alfredo consequently misses the unexpected arrival of his father.
Giorgio Germont’s distress over his son’s liaison with Violetta has prompted his coming. His harshness toward Violetta, in persisting that she leaves Alfredo, turns to tenderness as he realizes the depth and honesty of her love. Knowing that she does not have long to live and desiring to insure Alfredo’s future, Violetta makes the sacrifice.
In deciding to return to Paris, she sends a white camellia to the Baron and then fighting her broken heart, she begins writing a farewell to Alfredo.
When Alfredo returns, Violetta emotionally bids him a loving goodbye, which he does not understand until a servant brings him her letter. He is shocked and overwhelmed that she deserted him. His father reappears and tries to console him by appealing that he return home. When Alfredo discovers the invitation from Flora, he then realizes Violetta is returning to her former life and vows to have his revenge.
Act Two, Scene Two
During a very colorful masquerade, Violetta’s “friends” gossip about her abandonment of Alfredo and her return to the Baron. Having heard the rumors about himself, Alfredo, to the astonishment of them all, appears. Moments later Violetta reluctantly enters with the Baron who, upon seeing Alfredo, threatens her and forces her to remain.
Tension rises as the Baron tries to outdo Alfredo at cards, but the brash young man’s luck continues and it is only the announcement of supper that delays an impending confrontation. As soon as the two men depart Violetta sends Gastone to bring Alfredo to her.
Sensing that Alfredo will stop at nothing, she begs him to leave because of the Baron’s jealous wrath. Alfredo is hell-bent to win her back and pressures her to admit that the “someone”, who had the right; and forced her to return was Baron Duphol and that she loves him. At her wits end, she lies and says “Yes, I love him!” Hurt and enraged he calls back the guests and defiantly throws his winnings at the feet in payment to a woman of her kind.
Amid general indignation the elder Germont appears and publicly denounces his son’s conduct toward a “lady”. The music weaves the texture of Violetta’s love, Alfredo’s remorse and Germont’s secret. When it seems, for one brief instant, that the lovers might reconcile, the Baron suddenly slaps Alfredo with his glove, signifying an upcoming duel. Violetta, completely overwhelmed, swoons.
Now in the final throes of the disease, as so often happened in its later stages, Violetta is trapped in a “half world” - a world torturing and tormenting her – as she suffers through periods of deep delirium and then lucidity. It is an ambiguous “someplace” where she is unable to distinguish reality from the people and incidents trapped inside her fevered delirium. Violetta drowns in a deep morass of fleeting images; which confuse her troubled mind and sap the little strength remaining in her exhausted body.
Is what she has re-lived, in her tortured mind these last few months, real? Is what’s around her this very moment, real? She struggles, but cannot swim through the blur and fog in which she is submerged.
An instrumental prelude is dominated by reminiscent melodies and themes reflecting what Violetta has been re-living.
Thus we discover the forsaken and destitute Violetta with her beloved Annina. Annina brings her a sip
of water, then lets in a little light and sees the Doctor on his way. When he enters he brings more medicine, reassuring Violetta that she will soon be well again; but to Annina confides that the end may be only a few hours away.
Violetta does not know what time or day it is. Annina tells her it is Carnival Time; that all Paris has gone mad. Violetta sends her companion to give half her money to the poor, who also suffer, and to bring any mail that may have come.
Alone, Violetta unfolds a crumpled letter, which she knows by heart. It is from Giorgio Germont who writes that ‘Alfredo knows everything, that he is on his way to seek her forgiveness, and sends hope that she will soon be well.’ Violetta knows it is too late, that she is dying. Again, she succumbs to sorrow and delirium; relives pieces of her life and implores Heaven’s pardon for her past.
A raucous festival tune invades her mind - then Annina tries to revive her - then suddenly Alfredo is in the room. What is real? Could this be Alfredo, himself? Dear God, let it be true!!
Reconciliation, with eternal vows, gives Violetta new strength, but only for a short time. Weakness and frailty again overtake her body. She pleads to go to church, but is too weak. A sudden delirium possesses her. She rejects Alfredo and God, and finally falls fainting. Germont arrives and yet again she gathers hope, but very soon becomes feverish. In her weakness Violetta beckons Alfredo beside her, places a miniature of herself in his hand, asking him to promise that one day he will marry. Suddenly a surge of energy causes her to rise and she calls out from her “half world”...
“Oh, Joy”, reaches Alfredo, wanting to kiss him….and collapses in his arms.