A spot of blood on a handkerchief. A flower given and returned. Verdi's only opera on a contemporary subject scandalised the authorities before its 1853 premiere. Based on the life of Marie Duplessis, the Parisian prostitute with whom the novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas fell in love, La traviata is a story of first and last love. Laced with some of the most famous arias and choruses ever written, La traviata follows the career of Violetta, a celebrated courtesan, from the champagne-fuelled decadence of the demimonde to the tragedy of a sacrifice that will break her heart. Beguiled by the love of Alfredo, a young man from the provinces, Violetta leaves Paris with him but returns to her old life when confronted by Alfredo's father. Flamboyant drinking songs and masquerades for gypsies and matadors interrupt an intimate story of love, jealousy, forgiveness and fatal disease as Violetta waits for the return of the only man she has ever loved.