Synopsis of the Opera "La Traviata"

by Chip Marsden
Enrico Caruso notably played Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata.

Enrico Caruso notably played Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata. Images

"La Traviata" is one of Giuseppe Verdi's most widely adored and performed operas from a body of work that includes such other seminal operas as "Rigoletto" and "Aida." The first performance was in 1853 in the Italian city of Venice.

Act I

Act I is set in Paris. A high society courtesan, Violetta Valéry, is having an extravagant party. The party is celebrating her return to health after a long bout with illness. In attendance is Alfredo Germont, a young man who has long admired Violetta for her beauty. The audience learns that while Violetta was sick, Alfredo went to her house every day, unbeknownst to her. She gets dizzy during the party and seeks solitude in a room to regain her composure. Alfredo joins Violetta and admits his feelings for her. Not being the type of woman to "settle down," Violetta initially resists, but eventually disarmed by Alfredo's charm, she agrees to see him the next day, and the two part ways.

Start of Act II

Act II is months after the party. Alfredo and Violetta are living together in the country. She has left behind her society life and is content and in love with Alfredo. One day, Alfredo discovers that Violetta has pawned jewels to keep them in their home and goes to the city to settle the debt on his own. While Alfredo is gone, Violetta returns to find a letter from her old friend, Flora Bervoix, inviting her to a party. Violetta has no interest in the party, since that is her old life.

Arrival of Alfredo's Father

Alfredo's father suddenly arrives at the happy couple's home, and while he has Violetta alone, tells her she needs to leave Alfredo. He says that Violetta's bawdy courtesan reputation has tarnished the Germont family name, and that his daughter's engagement is in jeopardy due to the family's association with Violetta. It takes some convincing, but Violetta eventually agrees to leave, wanting to do what is best for Alfredo. Violetta sorrowfully tells the maid to inform Flora that she'll be at the party. While writing her goodbye note, Alfredo returns. Violetta tells him she loves him one last time before hastily leaving.

The Party

Alfredo doesn't know the story of her sudden departure. But he sees the invitation from Flora and assumes that Violetta has returned to her old lifestyle to pursue another man. Alfredo resolves to go to the party and confront his lost love. He arrives at the party very bitter, gambling and making unpleasant remarks. Violetta enters with Baron Douphol. The Baron and Alfredo play cards and The Baron loses a large sum of money to the caustic Alfredo. The guests gather for dinner but Violetta and Alfredo stay behind to talk.

Violetta's Lie

Violetta is afraid the Baron will retaliate against Alfredo and suggests that he leave. Alfredo mistakes her concern for his safety for a personal affront and an admission that she would rather be with the Baron. To get him to leave, she lies and says she loves the Baron. Alfredo makes a scene at the party to the displeasure of the guests and his own father. The Baron challenges Alfredo to a duel.


By the final act, Violetta is largely bed-ridden. Tuberculosis has taken over her body and her physician gives her a very short time to live. Violetta has gotten a letter from Alfredo's father reporting that Alfredo wounded the Baron in their duel. The letter also reveals that Alfredo has learned the whole truth about Violetta's reasons for leaving and lying about her feelings for the Baron. He is on his way to see her and ask forgiveness. They reunite and again feel the warmth of their love for each other. For a brief moment, Violetta is full of life once again before collapsing and dying in Alfredo's arms.

About the Author

Based in Virginia, Chip Marsden has been a writer for more than eight years. He has covered film, politics and culture for regional newspapers and online publications. Marsden holds a B.A. in theater arts with a concentration in performance.

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