ACT I - A square outside of a tobacco factory in 1820s Seville,
A group of soldiers and their corporal, Morales, reflect on their
easygoing lives. Micaëla (Me-ky-ayla) enters the square and asks
Morales if he has seen Don José (Joe-say). The corporal tells her
that José will arrive when the new guard relieves the old, and the
soldiers offer to entertain her in the guardhouse in the meantime.
She declines, and the soldiers return to watching passers-by. Street
urchins imitate the new guard, including José and his lieutenant,
Zuniga, as they enter.
A bell signals a break for the women working in the tobacco
factory. They flood the square to enjoy their cigarettes. Carmen
emerges from the crowd, and young men demand to know when the
sensuous gypsy goddess will favor one of them with her love. She
tells them that love is a rebellious bird that they will never tame,
lawless and free, and if you snare it, it flies away. José catches
her eye, and she teasingly throws him a flower.
Micaëla finds José, bringing with her a letter from his mother,
who forgives his erring ways and encourages him to return to the
love of his youth, Micaëla. Shouts from within the factory interrupt
their reverie of life together. Carmen has slashed another worker's
face with a knife. Zuniga demands that Carmen explain herself, but
she defies him. He orders José to arrest the insolent girl. José has
no choice but to take her forcefully to prison. On the way, she
informs him to the contrary: he is under her power, charmed by the
flower she gave him, and he will bow to her every whim. She promises
to meet José at Lillas Pastia's tavern if he helps her escape.
Intoxicated by the brazen creature, he is powerless to refuse.
Act II – Lillas Pastia’s Tavern two months later
Carmen and her friends entertain officers and smugglers with fiery
gypsy songs and dances in the tavern. Escamillo, a bullfighter,
swaggers in and shares a drink with his admirers. In response to a
lusty chorus of adulation, he sings the famous toreador song. He and
Zuniga have their eyes on Carmen, and both declare their love.
Though flattered, she refuses their advances. Zuniga promises to
return later that evening, hoping she will have changed her mind. As
the tavern clears out, two smugglers enter and ask Carmen and her
companions Frasquita and Mercédès to help them with a job that
night. They need women to carry it off. She refuses because José,
imprisoned for aiding her escape, was just released and could show
up at any minute. Just as José arrives, the call sounds from the
barracks, and he insists that he has to leave. Upset, Carmen
protests that if he really loved her, he would join her and the
smugglers that night in the mountains. With impeccable timing,
Zuniga arrives to seduce Carmen. In a fit of jealousy, José attacks
his lieutenant. The smugglers drag Zuniga away, and José has little
choice but to go with them.
Act III, Scene One - The smugglers' hideout
At the hideout in a wild mountain pass, José and Carmen fight again.
She tells him to leave and then joins Frasquita and Mercédès as they
turn cards to tell their fortunes. Frasquita and Mercédès foresee
rich and gallant lovers, but Carmen's cards spell death for her and
for José. Micaëla, with the help of a
guide, arrives at the hideout, hoping to save José. Just when she
sees him, he fires on Escamillo, who is also approaching the camp.
The bullfighter is looking for Carmen, having heard that she is
dissatisfied with her latest lover. Enraged, José nearly kills the
bullfighter in a knife fight, which Carmen and the smugglers luckily
interrupt. Unfazed, Escamillo invites Carmen and the others to his
next bullfight in Seville and takes his leave. Micaëla confronts
José, tells him that his mother is on her deathbed, and begs him to
come with her. He agrees, but only after vowing to Carmen that he
Scene Two - Seville
The day of the bullfight has arrived, and a resplendent Carmen
approaches the stadium on Escamillo's arm. Haggard and desperate,
José emerges from the crowd and declares his undying love to Carmen.
He implores her to forget
the past and start a new life with him.
She laughs scornfully at him, hurling the ring he
once gave her into the dirt.
She will never give in: she was born free and
free she will die. In a passionate
rage, José plunges his dagger into Carmen’s heart and collapses in
horror upon his beloved, as cheers for the triumphant bullfighter
rise from the stadium.