Carmen traces the joined fates of the fiery gypsy Carmen and Don José, a naïve army corporal.

Act I

Outside a factory

A group of soldiers on duty are killing time. The arrival of Micaëla catches their attention – she is looking for a soldier named Don José. Moralès tells her that Don José will be arriving soon with the next shift. Micaëla declines his invitation to wait, saying she’ll come back later.

The relief guard appear, led by Zuniga. Moments later, a bell rings and the soldiers gather to watch the female workers emerge from the cigarette factory. The men are all hoping for a smile or glance from one woman: Carmen. Only Don José appears to be immune to her charms.

Once the women have gone back into the factory, Don José reflects on his encounter with Carmen. Micaëla returns and delivers a letter from his mother back home in the country. Just as he finishes reading it, uproar spills out of the factory: Carmen has been accused of fighting with, and wounding, another worker. Don José is ordered to take her into custody, but Carmen, with a provocative song that promises a liaison at a nearby club, persuades him to let her escape instead.

Act II

In Lillas Pastia’s club

Carmen and her friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, sing and dance for an appreciative crowd, which includes Moralès and Zuniga. Zuniga tells them that Don José has just been released from custody, having been imprisoned and demoted for his part in Carmen’s escape.

Their conversation is interrupted by the entrance of renowned bullfighter Escamillo; admired by all, he only has eyes for Carmen. Once the club is empty, smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado arrive to ask for the women’s help with their next scheme. Carmen refuses to go with them because she wants to wait for Don José.

Don José arrives and Carmen dances for him, but at the sound of the call-to-barracks in the distance, he prepares to return to duty. She mocks him, and when she demands he choose between the army and her love, he reveals he hasn’t stopped thinking about her since their first meeting. Zuniga suddenly returns. Overcome with jealousy, Don José attacks his commanding officer. The smugglers return, summoned by Carmen, and Don José has no choice but to join them – he can never return to the army.


On a mountain pass

The smugglers are operating from a camp in the mountains. Carmen has grown tired of Don José and his controlling behaviour, and she tells him to go home to his mother. The women tell their fortunes: the cards foretell love and riches for Frasquita and Mercédès, but only death for Carmen.

Escamillo turns up unexpectedly, still determined to pursue Carmen. After a violent encounter with the jealous Don José, he invites everyone, especially Carmen, to his next bullfight. Another surprise arrival – Micaëla – appears in the camp with news: Don José’s mother is dying and he must return home as a matter of urgency. He agrees to leave, but swears to Carmen that they will meet again.

Act IV

At the bullring

It’s the day of the bullfight, and the crowd gathers in anticipation. Escamillo arrives with Carmen on his arm. Frasquita and Mercédès warn her that Don José is lurking in the crowd, and beg her to take care, but Carmen is unafraid.

Don José approaches Carmen and begs her to come back to him, pleading for her love. Carmen tells him that their relationship is over, and she will live – or die – free. As the crowd inside the bullring roars and cheers for Escamillo, Don José kills Carmen.

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