by Tracy Hansford
Soldiers loiter near a cigarette factory in Seville observing the townspeople. A peasant girl, Micaela, approaches Moralès and inquires about a recent recruit, Don José. With the changing of the guard, led by Lt. Zuniga, the newly minted soldier enters.
On a break from their jobs, women, including the saucy gypsy Carmen, emerge from the cigarette factory. Carmen claims she is free to live and love as she pleases.
All the soldiers are beguiled by her with the exception of Don José,who pointedly ignores her. Carmen flirts with him and then tosses him a rose which he picks up and hides.
Micaela brings a letter from Don José’s mother, which pleads with him to return to the countryside and the virtuous life it offers. Embarrassed by the implication that José should marry, Micaela flees.
The factory women have returned to work, when a fight breaks out between Carmen and another girl. Zuniga sends Don José to quell the disturbance, but haughty Carmen refuses to answer questions and is sentenced to prison, to be escorted there by José. Seduced by her beauty and her promise for an amorous liaison, he allows her to escape while he is apprehended.
Carmen learns from Zuniga that José, who has been in prison, has just been released. She and her friends Frasquita and Mercèdés have been partying in a tavern owned by Lillas Pastia when the renowned bullfighter Escamillo swaggers in, full of braggadocio and amorous innuendos directed at Carmen; she denies him, asserting her love for Don José. When he leaves, the smugglers discuss a future raid they have planned; Carmen’s friends are ready to help but she will not participate because she is in love.
When Don José arrives, Carmen dances for him until a bugle call summons him to return to the troops. To prove his love, he shows her the flower he has treasured while serving her prison term.
Then Carmen taunts him, urging him to desert the army and join the vagabonds in the mountains. Meanwhile Zuniga returns to pursue Carmen and a struggle ensues with José, who is wildly jealous. Now discredited as a soldier, his only option is to join the smugglers.
In the mountains
Life in the mountains in the gypsy smugglers’ hideout has disenchanted José. Quarrels erupt between him and Carmen; she is tired of him and suggests that he return to his mother. He is ordered to be on guard while Carmen and her girlfriends read each other’s fortunes. The cards say Frasquita and Mercèdés will lead lives of luck and prosperity, but Carmen has drawn the Ace of Spades, signifying death.
Micaela enters in search of José, bearing the news that his mother is dying.
Upon hearing a shot, she hides. José has fired at an intruder, Escamillo. Their fight is halted by the smugglers, and the toreador invites all to the bullring. Anxious to be rid of José, Carmen encourages him to accompany Micaela to his mother’s side. Still hopelessly in love, José swears to Carmen that he will return.
Seville, Outside a bullring
In Seville, the crowd cheers for the bullfighters as they approach the arena.
Carmen appears with Escamillo and is warned that Don José is in the area. When he appears, she tells him that their romance is finished and insults him by throwing his ring in the dust. Unable to live without her, José stabs her. She dies in his arms.