The film opens in the Paris home of courtesan Violetta Valéry, where sheets cover the furniture in dimly lit rooms. Creditors, appraisers, and movers are removing much of the artwork and ornate furnishings. One of them curiously wanders through the rooms, until he comes upon Violetta, bedridden and looking pallid and weak, and he stares at her with undisguised awe. She is startled to see him and follows him to see what he is doing. As she gazes down the long hallway, her delirious mind drifts back to a happier time, and via flashback we are transported to a lavish party she is hosting to celebrate her recovery from an illness. One of her guests, Count Gastone, has brought with him his friend, the young nobleman Alfredo Germont, who has long adored Violetta from afar. She becomes dizzy and retires to her bedroom to recover; he follows her and declares his love. At first Violetta rejects him, telling him love means nothing to her, but she is touched by his concern and offers him a camellia, telling him to return it when it has wilted. He promises to see her the next day.
Three months pass, and Violetta and Alfredo are living together in a peaceful country house outside Paris. She has fallen deeply in love with him and has abandoned her former life. When Alfredo learns from the maid Annina her mistress has ordered her to sell the horses, carriages, and everything owned by Violetta in order to finance their lavish lifestyle, Alfredo leaves for Paris immediately to handle matters himself.
During his absence, his father Giorgio arrives and requests that, for the sake of his family, Violetta end her relationship with his son. Violetta's unsavory reputation has threatened his daughter's engagement. After declaring her love for Alfredo, she reluctantly agrees to Giorgio's demand. He kisses her forehead in a gesture of gratitude for her sacrifice and leaves.
Violetta is in the midst of writing a letter of farewell to Alfredo when he enters. She tells him repeatedly of her unconditional love before rushing out and handing the letter to her servant to give to Alfredo. Giorgio returns and attempts to comfort his son, who suspects Barone Douphol is the real reason Violetta left. When he finds an invitation from Flora Bervoix on the desk, he decides to confront Violetta at the party.
Violetta arrives with Baron Douphol, who challenges Alfredo at the gambling table. Alfredo wins large sums of money, and when everyone goes into the dining room for supper, Violetta - fearful the Baron's anger at losing will lead him to challenge Alfredo to a duel - asks Alfredo to leave. He misunderstands her apprehension and demands she admit she loves Douphol. When she does, an infuriated Alfredo humiliates and denounces her in front of the other guests, then throws his winnings at her for the "services" she performed for him while they lived together. Giorgio, having arrived in search of his son, witnesses the scene and castigates Alfredo for his boorish behavior. Flora and the ladies try to escort Violetta from the room but, before departing, she turns to him and tells him he cannot fathom the love she has for him within her heart.
Back in Violetta's home, Dr. Grenvil advises Annina her mistress' tuberculosis has worsened and she doesn't have long to live. Giorgio sends Violetta a letter telling her he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she made for him and his sister, and that he is sending his son to see her. Alfredo arrives and suggests they leave Paris, but Violetta knows the end is near. Giorgio rushes in and begs her forgiveness. Violetta presents Alfredo with a locket with her picture and asks him to remember her, while at the same time urging him to marry if he falls in love again. "How strange," she mumurs, "the spasms have stopped." With a peaceful smile on her face, she lifts herself from the bed and reaches to the daylight. "I am returning to life!," she cries, then falls to the floor.Teresa Stratas as Violetta Valéry
Plácido Domingo as Alfredo Germont
Cornell MacNeil as Giorgio Germont
Allan Monk as Baron Douphol
Pina Cei as Annina
Axelle Gall as Flora Bervoix
Maurizio Barbacini as Gastone
Producer ..... Tarak Ben Ammar
Cinematography ..... Ennio Guarnieri
Production Design ..... Franco Zeffirelli, Gianni Quaranta
Costume Design ..... Piero Tosi
Conductor/Musical Director ..... James Levine
Choreography ..... Alberto Testa
In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby called the film a "triumph" and "dazzling" and added, "[It] never has the manner of something scaled down or souped up for a mass audience, though I suspect it will be immensely popular anyway. Verdi's genius will out, especially when presented with the talent, intelligence and style that have gone into this production . . . Miss Stratas not only sings magnificently but she also looks the role . . . [she] is a screen presence as riveting to watch as to listen to. It's an acting performance of breathtaking intensity . . . La Traviata benefits from Mr. Zeffirelli's talents as a designer as much as from his gifts as a director. The physical production is lush without being fussy. Nor is it ever overwhelming. This possibly is because at key moments we are always aware of details that, however realistic, remind us that what we are witnessing is not life but a grand theatrical experience. It's not to be missed." Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Franco Zeffirelli, Gianni Quaranta - nominees)
Academy Award for Best Costume Design (nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design (winner)
BAFTA Award for Best Production Design (winner)
Nastro d'Argento for Best Costume Design (winner)
Nastro d'Argento for Best Production Design (winner)
Nastro d'Argento for Best Cinematography (winner)