At a society event, guests await the arrival of Violetta Valéry, the city’s most sophisticated high-society courtesan. Violetta is dying, and the cruel voyeurs are eager to witness Violetta’s demise. The crowd foists a new admirer on her: a young, socially awkward bookworm named Alfredo Germont. But he lectures the prostitute, telling her that she should lead a respectable life in which love reigns supreme. She tries to dismiss his ideas as naïve and impractical, but reassesses her life, renounces her lifestyle, and moves to the country with Alfredo.
Violetta’s new perspective is shattered when Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s solid, middle-class father, confronts her. He wants her to leave his family alone. Violetta agrees to comply with Germont’s wishes and returns to the brutal society she left behind. When Alfredo discovers that Violetta has abandoned him, he is devastated and seeks revenge.
Violetta prepares to die. Alfredo comes to visit her in the hope of conjuring up one final illusion of their love, but he is too late.