ATER a short instrumental prelude, the curtain rises on a brilliant scene in the house of the beautiful Violetta Valery soprano), the reigning belle of Paris. She is receiving her guests. Gastone de Letorieres (tenor) presents Alfredo Germont (tenor), who soon makes himself conspicuous by singing a Bacchanalian song (Libiamo, libiamo), in which Gastone, Flora Bervoix (soprano,) Barone Douphol (bass), Marchese D’Obigny (bass), and Dottore Grenvil (bass), and chorus join. Violetta, glass in hand, gaily takes up the theme of Alfredo’s song and sings the second verse, in which the others join as before. This popular number is in triple rhythm and a lovely accompaniment of bass voices repeating the air produces a fine effect. A waltz strikes up, and Alfredo is left alone by the guests’ retirement into an adjoining room. Violetta gives evidence of consumption, and Alfredo expresses his consternation (duet : Un di felice), while she gives him friendly warning. The guests return to take leave as dawn is approaching (Si ridesta in cell l’aurora). On their departure Violetta, abandoned to her own reflections, sings a grand scena, Ah, fors’ e lui, expressing her love for Alfredo, and reflecting on her lost condition, and finally as a solace resolving to plunge into a whirl of dissipation, ” Sempre libera degg’io.”
ACT II. The curtain rises upon a country villa near Paris, where Alfredo and Violetta have been living for the past three months in great happiness, as Alfredo tells us (aria : D? miei bollenti). Annina, Violetta’s maid (soprano), comes in and tells Alfredo that she has just returned from Paris, where she has been to sell Violetta’s jewels to pay for the housekeeping expenses. The conscience-smitten Alfredo resolves to go to Paris and repair matters (aria : O mio rimorso), and then departs.
Violetta enters and questions Annina regarding Alfredo’s strange departure. A servant, Giuseppe (tenor), brings her a note from Flora Bervoix, inviting both Violetta and Alfredo to an entertainment, and he also announces a visitor. The latter approaches. He is Germont, Alfredo’s father (baritone), who is greatly distressed at the condition of affairs, and begs Violetta to release his son. However, he is touched by her devotion when he hears that she is about to sell her property for the sake of his son, and changes his harsh manner to one of tenderness (duet : Pura siccome un angels). Under his influence and for love of Alfredo, she determines to make the sacrifice and to leave Alfredo.
Germont goes out to the garden, and Violetta writes a mysterious letter, then she rings for Annina and bids her deliver this in Paris. As she is writing a letter to Alfredo, the latter comes in and questions her about it. She is embarrassed and refuses to answer ; but she tells him of her love for him, and, weeping, bids him a farewell that he does not understand. Her abrupt departure does not interfere with his indulging pleasant dreams for the future. Soon after she has left, Giuseppe informs him that Violetta has gone to Paris, and a moment later a messenger brings a letter. It is from Violetta. From it he learns, to his utter despair, that his love has deserted him. Germont, coming forward, tries to comfort him (aria : Di Provenza il mar), in a beautiful appeal to return to his home in Provence and to his father’s heart. Alfredo refuses to go, and determines to follow Violetta to Paris.
The scene changes to Flora Bervoix’s house, where there is a gay entertainment. Flora is expecting Alfredo and Violetta, and is told that they have parted. Ladies masked as gipsies come in and tell the fortunes of the guests (chorus : Noi siamo zangarelle). Gastone and others dressed as matadores and picadores follow (chorus : Di Madride ). Alfredo, to the surprise of everybody, appears, and soon after him, Violetta, on the arm of her new protector, Barone Douphol. Violetta is overcome at seeing Alfredo. The Barone commands her not to speak to him, nor even to notice him. Seeing her embarrassment, Flora comes to talk to her. Alfredo and Gastone play cards. Alfredo talks unkindly of Violetta, and she becomes very ill. Supper is announced, and everybody leaves the stage. Violetta soon returns, saying she has implored Alfredo to give her a short interview. When he comes in, she begs him to beware of the Barone’s jealous wrath, and also tells him that one who had the right to demand it forced her to renounce him. He asks if this person was Douphol, and she answers Yes. Alfredo then calls in the company, and, throwing Violetta’s portrait at her feet, denounces her with cruel words in his aria, Ogni suo aver, amid general indignation (chorus : Oh infamia orribile).
Germont enters and begins the largo of the finale (Di sprezzo degno), denouncing his son’s conduct. Alfredo replies, and then the concerted part begins. Violetta sings of her love for Alfredo ; Flora tries to comfort her ; Alfredo is still incensed ; Germont says he is the only one in possession of the secret of Violetta’s sacrifice; the Barone defies Alfredo ; and the Dottore and chorus sing their sympathy for Violetta. The ensemble is developed at great length. Germont and his son leave, the Barone follows, the Dottore and Flora take Violetta into the adjoining room, and the rest disperse as the curtain falls.
ACT III. An instrumental prelude prepares us for a melancholy scene, for the curtain rises on Violetta’s room, where she is dying of consumption. Violetta calls upon Annina to give her something to drink, and then to open the window and let in the daylight. The Dottore enters and tells Violetta that she is better; but to Annina he remarks that “few grains of sand remain in her glass.” Violetta asks Annina what are the sounds she hears in the street. The maid replies it is Shrove Tuesday and the carnival is beginning. Violetta bids her scatter some money to the poor. Soon a letter is delivered to Violetta, from Germont, who tells her that he and Alfredo are coming to see her and beg forgiveness, that Alfredo knows the whole story, and that the latter has fought with and wounded the Barone. Violetta is overjoyed, but fears she is beyond recovery and implores Heaven’s pardon for the past (aria : . Addio ! del passato). Merry carnival-sounds outside contrast with her despondency ; the people are singing praises to the Boeuf Gras (chorus : Largo al quadrupede). Annina announces Alfredo, who quickly follows. A loving reconciliation takes place, with vows of eternal devotion (duet : Parigi o cara) ; but, alas ! Violetta grows weaker and Alfredo cannot comfort her. The sorrowful Germont, having come in and seen Violetta’s condition, blames himself for all the sorrow he has caused. Violetta gives Alfredo her portrait (finale : Prendi, quest é l’immagine de’ miei ). She revives a few minutes and then falls dead, while the Dottore, Alfredo, Germont, and Annina cry out in anguish.