Alfredo Germont, a young man from Provence, is introduced by Gaston, Vicomte de Letorieres, to Violetta Valery, a famous courtesan. She is giving a soiree in her house in Paris. Gaston knows how much Alfredo admires Valery, but initially she pays hardly any attention to Germont.
When Baron Douphol, with whom Violetta is having an affair, refuses to propose a toast in celebration of the evening, Alfredo, urged on by Violetta, declares his willingness to do so. He sings a passionate song in praise of love with Violetta and the party guests joining in.
As the guests go off to dance, Violetta suddenly feels faint and has to remain behind. Alfredo makes a declaration of love. Violetta turns him down with gentle scorn. Touched however by Alfredo's candid overtures, she presents him with a camellia: he may return when the flower has withered, that is, within a day. At dawn the guests depart.
Alone, Violetta reflects on the senselessness of her past life. But still she refues to accept that she is falling in love with Alfredo.
Violetta has retreated to a country-house with Alfredo. Far away from Paris, she wants to enjoy some happiness with her beloved.
Alfredo learns from the servant Annina that Violetta intends to sell her valuables in order to support them.
After Alfredo has left the house in order to procure the necessary money himself, his father pays Violetta an unexpected visit. He asks that she break off the relationship with his son. Giorgio Germont demands this sacrifice because a liaison between his son and a courtesan would compromise his family and endanger his daughter's proposed marriage.
Violetta is prepared to make the sacrifice and leave Alfredo on condition that Giorgio Germont reveal to his son after her death the true reasons behind her actions.
Violetta sends Annina with a message to her friend Flora Bervoix in Paris that she will attend her soiree that evening. Then she writes Alfredo a farewell letter. On the pretext of wanting to prepare for his father's visit, Violetta leaves the unsuspecting Alfredo and returns secretly to Paris.
A few moments later a messenger brings Alfredo Violetta's letter. She informs him that she has decided to return to her former life.
Alfredo's father tries in vain to persuade his son to return to the family. Alfredo rushes off to Paris to Flora's salon.
There is dancing, singing and gambling at the courtesan Flora Bervoix's soiree. Alfredo is looking for Violetta. He appears to be desinterested when asked about his mistress. The guests invite him to take a seat at the gambling table.
Soon after Violetta enters the room on the arm of her former lover, Baron Douphol. At the gambling table Alfredo provokes not only the Baron but also Violetta with his remarks.
After the guests have sat down to dinner, Alfredo is able to speak with Violetta alone. She pretends to be in love with the Baron and implores Alfredo to leave at once, as she is afraid he might lose his life in a duel with Douphol.
In a state of extreme agitation Alfredo summons the guests. In front of the assembled people he throws the money he has won at Violetta's feet. Alfredo's father enters at this moment and rebukes his son for his lack of self-control. The emotional upheaval has drained Violetta. Rejected by the others, she slowly leaves the room.
Some time later. Besides her deteriorating health Violetta is now financially ruined. Doctor Grenvil consoles the dying woman.
In a letterfrom Giorgio Germont,Violetta learns that there has been a duel between Alfredo and Douphol. Germont announces furthermore that his son will be arriving.
Violetta feels that death is imminent. Outside a carnival procession passes by. Annina prepares Violetta to meet Alfredo who has returned.
The lovers embrace passionately. Alfredo pleads with Violetta for forgiveness. Violetta experiences one last surge of life, then succumbs. Doctor Grenvil and Giorgio Germont find a dying woman.