ACT I. In a square in Seville, soldiers watch the passing crowd. Micaela arrives in search of her sweetheart, Don José, a corporal. A fellow officer, Moralès, tells her José will be along soon; when Moralès offers himself as a substitute, she leaves hastily. As the guard changes, children imitate the arriving soldiers, one of whom is José. Girls from the cigarette factory come to smoke and chat. Carmen, a Gypsy who works in the factory, flirts with the local men, airing her philosophy of life: love is a wild bird that cannot be tamed. José sits apart, distracted. Drawn by his indifference, Carmen tosses him a flower as the work bell calls the girls back inside. His musings on the bewitching “sorceress” are interrupted by Micaela, who brings news of José’s mother. She has sent him a kiss, which the girl delivers shyly. No sooner has she left than a disturbance is heard in the factory: Carmen is involved in a fight. The girls run out, arguing over who started it. Lt. Zuniga orders José to arrest Carmen. Her wrists bound, she is left alone with José, who forbids her to speak to him. Instead, she flirtatiously sings “to herself” about the rendezvous she might make with “a certain officer” who has taken her fancy. José, intoxicated, agrees to let her escape; when she pushes him to the ground and runs off, he is arrested for his negligence.
ACT II. A month later, at Lillas Pastia’s inn, Carmen sings a Gypsy song and dances for the customers. The matador Escamillo arrives, boasting of his exploits. He is attracted to Carmen, who puts off his amorous advances. When the inn closes, Dancaire and Remendado try to convince Frasquita, Mercédès and Carmen to accompany them on their next smuggling trip. The girls are game, except for Carmen, who says she is in love with José and is awaiting his return from prison. The others laugh at her, then depart as José is heard approaching. Carmen sings and dances for him, but when a distant bugle sounds the retreat, he says he must return to the barracks. Carmen mocks his blind obedience, saying he doesn’t love her; he replies by telling her how he has kept the flower she threw, the scent of its wilted blossom conjuring up her image in his prison cell. He refuses her suggestion that he desert the army to join her wild mountain life, but when Zuniga breaks in, looking for Carmen, the jealous José attacks his superior. Carmen summons the other Gypsies, who hold Zuniga captive until they can get away. José, now an outlaw, has no choice but to join their band. The Gypsies rejoice in their life of freedom.
ACT III. In the smugglers’ mountain hideout, José regrets that he has betrayed his mother’s hopes. Carmen finds his homesickness and obsessive jealousy tiresome. Telling him he may as well leave, she joins her friends, reading fortunes in the cards. Frasquita foresees a lover for herself, Mercédès a rich husband, but Carmen sees only death. When the Gypsies leave José as lookout, Micaela enters, frightened but determined to find him. She hides at the sound of a shot, fired by José as a warning to a trespasser – Escamillo. When it becomes clear that the two men are rivals, they start to fight but are separated by the Gypsies. Escamillo invites them all to his next bullfight and leaves. Remendado discovers Micaela, who has come to beg José to return home to his ailing mother. Carmen dismisses him willingly, but José vows to find her again after he has seen his mother.
ACT IV. In Seville’s Plaza de Toros, the crowd gathers for the bullfight, hailing Escamillo. He and Carmen declare their love, and he enters the ring. Carmen’s friends warn that José has been spotted nearby, looking desperate, but she is a fatalist and defiantly remains to face him. He enters and begs her to return to him. She replies that everything is finished between them, and she tosses in his face a ring he once gave her. The crowd is heard cheering Escamillo. When Carmen tries to run past José, he stabs her, then falls by her body in despair.
-Courtesy Opera News