The action takes place in Seville and surroundings, around 1820.
A square in Seville. On the right, a door to the tobacco factory. In the back, a bridge. On the left, a guardhouse.
A group of soldiers relax in the square, waiting for the changing of the guard and commenting on passersby (“Sur la place, chacun passe”). Micaela appears, looking for José. Moralès tells him: “José is not on duty yet” and invites her to wait with them. She refuses, saying that she will come back later. José arrives with the new guard, who is greeted and imitated by a crowd of boys “Avec la garde upstream”.
When the factory bell rings, the cigarette girls appear and exchange jokes with the boys in the crowd, “La cloche a sonné”. Carmen enters and sings her provocative habanera about the indomitable nature of love (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”). The men beg her to choose a lover, after some teasing she throws a flower to Don José, who until then ignored her, but is now irritated by her insolence.
As the women return to the factory, Micaela returns and hands José a letter and a kiss from his mother “Parle-moi de ma mère!” In this he reads that his mother wants him to return home and marry Micaela, who learns these retreats in shy embarrassment. While José declares that he is ready to comply with his mother’s wishes, the women leave the factory in great agitation. Zuniga, the guard officer, discovers Carmen attacked a woman with a knife when challenged, Carmen responds with a mocking challenge (“Tra la la … Coupe-moi, brûle-moi”); Zuniga orders José to tie her hands while preparing the arrest warrant. Left alone with José, Carmen seduces him with a sequel, in which she sings a night of dancing and passion with her lover-whoever he is-in Lillas Pastia’s tavern. Confused but hypnotized, José agrees to free her hands, which when taken pushes the escort to the ground and runs away laughing. Joseph is arrested for dereliction of duty.
Lillas Pastia Inn
A month passed. Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès are hosting Zuniga and other police officers (“Les tringles des sistres inkient”) at Pastia’s inn. Carmen is happy to learn of José’s release after a month in detention. Outside, a choir and a procession announce the arrival of the bullfighter Escamillo (“Vivat, vivat le Toréro”). Invited to enter, he introduces himself with his “Song of the Toreador” (“Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”) and turns to Carmen, who pushes him away. Lillas Pastia fends off the crowd and soldiers.
When only Carmen, Frasquita, and Mercédès remain, smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado arrive and reveal their plans to get rid of the newly acquired contraband (“Nous avons en tête une affaire”). Frasquita and Mercédès insist on helping them, but Carmen refuses, as she wants to wait for José. After the smugglers leave, José arrives. Carmen invites him to a private exotic dance, (“Je vais danser en votre honneur … La la la”), but her song is accompanied by a trumpet call far from the barracks. When José tells him he must go back to work, she mocks him, he responds by showing her the flower she threw at him in the square (“La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”). Unconvinced, Carmen demands that he show his love by leaving with her. José refuses to defect, but as he prepares to leave, Zuniga enters looking for Carmen. He and José fight, and are separated by the smugglers who return and arrest Zuniga. Having attacked a superior officer, José now has no choice but to join Carmen and the smugglers (“Suis-nous a travers la campagne”).
a wild place in the mountains
Carmen and José enter with the smugglers and their loot (“Écoute, écoute, compagnons”); Carmen is now bored with José and tells him disdainfully that he should go back to his mother. Frasquita and Mercédès enjoy reading their fortunes in the cards; Carmen joins them and discovers that the letters are predicting her and José’s death. The women set out to bribe the customs officials who guard the place, while José is on guard duty.
Micaela enters with a guide, looking for José and determined to rescue him from Carmen (“Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”). Hearing a shot, she hides in fear; it’s José, who shot an intruder who proves to be Escamillo. José’s pleasure in meeting the bullfighter turns to anger when Escamillo declares his passion for Carmen. The two fight (“Je suis Escamillo, toréro de Grenade”), but are interrupted by the smugglers and girls (“Holà, holà José”). Upon leaving, Escamillo invites everyone to his next bullfight in Seville. Micaela is discovered; at first José doesn’t go away with her, despite Carmen’s mockery, but agrees to go when he’s told his mother is dying. As he leaves, vowing to return, Escamillo is heard in the distance, singing the bullfighter’s song.
A square in Seville
At the back, the walls of an old amphitheater
Zuniga, Frasquita and Mercédès are among the crowd awaiting the arrival of the bullfighters (“Les voici! Voici la quadrille!”). Escamillo enters with Carmen, and they express their mutual love (“Si tu m’aimes, Carmen”). When Escamillo enters the arena, Frasquita tells Carmen that José is nearby, but Carmen isn’t afraid and wants to talk to him. Alone, she is confronted by the desperate José (“C’est toi! C’est moi!”). As he vainly begs her to return to him, screams are heard in the arena. As José makes his last plea, Carmen contemptuously throws the ring he gave her and tries to enter the arena. He then stabs her, and when Escamillo is cheered by the crowd, Carmen dies. José kneels down and sings “Ah! Carmen! Ma Carmen adorée!”; as the crowd leaves the arena, Joseph confesses to having killed the woman he loved.