La traviata, an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, takes as its basis the novel La dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, published in 1848. First performance: Teatro la Fenice, Venice, March 6, 1853. The title means literally The Woman Who Strayed, or perhaps more poetically The Lost One. Immensely popular, according to Opera America, La Traviata is the third most performed opera in North America, behind only Madama Butterfly and La bohème.
The opera is based on the same novel that also forms the basis of various versions of the movie Camille. The films Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge! also use the story as a base.
Violetta Valery, a famed courtesan, throws a lavish party at her Parisian abode to celebrate her recovery from an illness. Gaston, a count, has brought with him his friend the young nobleman Alfredo Germont, who has longed for a year to meet Violetta. Alfredo, upon introduction to Violetta, expresses his concern for her fragile health and later declares his love for her. Violetta rejects him but gives him a camellia, telling him to return when the flower has wilted. After the guests leave, Violetta contemplates the possibility of a real relationship with true love, but finally rejects the notion. She needs freedom to live life, night and day, from one pleasure to another.
A few months later, Alfredo and Violetta together lead an idyllic existence in a country house outside of Paris — Violetta has fallen in love with Alfredo in spite of herself. She has completely abandoned her former life. When Alfredo discovers, however, that Violetta has sold her belongings to support this country life, he rushes to Paris to rectify the situation. In Alfredo's absence, his father comes to Violetta and tells her that their relationship has destroyed Alfredo's future and the fortunes of Alfredo's sister (Violetta's reputation as a courtesan has compromised the Germont name). With growing remorse she listens to the pathetic words of the older Germont and, through his influence, leaves Alfredo, giving as explanation a desire for her old, wild existence.
In order to overcome her grief, Violetta plunges more deeply than ever into dissipation. Some time later, Alfredo confronts Violetta at a party and disgraces her before the other guests by throwing money at her — money he says he owes her for services rendered while they lived together in the country. (He does not know of his father's visit and believes that Violetta has left him for another man.) Violetta, overcome with sickness and sorrow, faints. Germont enters and chastises Alfredo for treating a woman so disrespectfully. Baron Douphol, Violetta's escort, challenges Alfredo to a duel. Violetta regains consciousness and pleads her love for Alfredo.
A few months after the party, tuberculosis (or "consumption" in 19th-century opera vernacular) has confined Violetta to her bed. Old Germont sends her a letter stating that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice Violetta made for Alfredo and his sister. Alfredo (returning from exile after wounding the Baron in their duel), hastens to her side, understanding at last that Violetta had sacrificed herself for his sake, and begs her forgiveness. She dies in his arms.
Violetta's home. Ensemble of the guests.
At a country house.
(Often played as the second scene of Act II.) At Flora's house.
Bedchamber of Violetta.