Opera comique in four acts by Georges Bizet to a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy after Prosper Merimee’s novel of the same name. Premiered in Paris on March 3, 1875 at the Opera-Comique (Salle Favart).
The opera takes place in and around Seville, c. 1830.
In a public square in front of a tobacco factory, soldiers watch the passers-by. Among them is Micaëla, a peasant girl, who is looking for an officer named Don José. Moralès, a corporal, tells her that he will arrive soon with the changing of the guard. The soldiers flirt with Micaëla, but she runs away. The relief guard approaches, headed by Lieutenant Zuniga, and José learns from Moralès that a girl has been looking for him. When the factory bell rings, the men of Seville gather to watch the women workers return from their lunch break—especially their favorite, the gypsy Carmen. She tells her admirers that love obeys no rules. Only one man pays no attention to her: Don José. Provacatively, Carmen throws a flower at him, and the women go back into the factory.
José picks up the flower. Micaëla returns, bringing a letter—and a kiss—from José’s mother. When he starts to read the letter, Micaëla leaves him alone. He is about to throw away the flower when a fight erupts inside the factory between Carmen and another girl. Zuniga sends José to retrieve the gypsy. Carmen refuses to answer Zuniga’s questions, and José is ordered to take her to prison. Left alone with him, she seduces him with visions of a rendezvous at Lillas Pastia’s tavern. Mesmerized, José agrees to let her escape. As they leave for prison, Carmen slips away and Don José is arrested.
Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès entertain the guests at Lillas Pastia’s tavern. Zuniga tells Carmen that José has just been released from prison. The bullfighter Escamillo enters and boasts about the pleasures of his profession, in particular those relating to the ladies. He flirts with Carmen, but she coyly puts him off. When the tavern guests leave with Escamillo, the smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado explain their latest schemes to the women. Frasquita and Mercédès are willing to help, but Carmen refuses to join them because she is in love. José is heard singing in the distance, and the smugglers withdraw. Carmen arouses José’s jealousy by mentioning that she has been dancing with Zuniga. He declares his love, but when bugles are heard, he says he must return to the barracks. Carmen mocks him, claiming that he doesn’t love her. To prove her wrong, he shows her the flower she threw at him and confesses how its fading scent sustained his love during the weeks in prison. She is unimpressed: if he really loved her, he would desert the army and join her in a life of freedom in the mountains. José refuses, and Carmen tells him to leave. Zuniga bursts in, and in a jealous rage José draws his sword. The smugglers return and disarm Zuniga. José now has no choice but to desert and join them.