World premiere: 3 March 1875, Opera-Comique, Paris
First performance in Russia: 16 February 1878, the Italian Opera Company, Bolshoi (Stone) Theatre, St Petersburg
First performance at the Mariinsky Theatre: 30 September 1885, St Petersburg
Premiere of this production: 30 April 2005, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Running time: 4 hours 20 minutes
The performance has three intervals
A square in Seville
In the guard house, Morales and his soldiers are discussing the passers-by. Micaлla arrives, looking for the corporal Don Jose. Morales explains that Jose is in another company that is due to take over the guard. Micaela decides not to wait and departs. The officer Zuniga and Jose lead in the new guard, accompanied by a horde of children. Morales tells Jose that Micaela was asking for him. Zuсiga, leader of the new guard, asks Josй about the women who work in the factory nearby, but Jose says he pays them no attention.
It is break-time at the factory and the women come out to smoke and flirt with the young men who have been waiting for them. Carmen is at the centre of everyoneґs attention. She talks of love (Lґamour est un oiseau rebelle), that it is elusive and inconstant and that she will only love a man she herself chooses even if he does not love her in return. The bell rings, signalling the break is over. Carmen, desirous of catching Josйґs attention, throws him a flower. Enraptured, he quickly hides it.
Micaela returns, bringing Jose a letter from his mother in which she asks him to return to marry Micaela.
Uproar suddenly breaks out in the factory and the women pour into the square, accusing Carmen of drawing a knife on her friend in a quarrel. Jose is sent to question Carmen, but she refuses to answer. Zuniga orders Jose to take her to prison. Carmen starts to captivate Jose and tries to persuade him to release her. Forbidden to speak, she sings, contriving to arrange a rendezvous with him at Lillas Pastiaґs tavern. He agrees to free her only if she will love him. She promises to do so, Josй frees her and is subsequently himself arrested.
Lillas Pastiaґs tavern
Carmen, Frasquita and Mercйdиs are entertaining gypsies and soldiers. Zuniga tells Carmen that Jose, demoted and jailed for a month for aiding her escape, has just been released.
A crowd is heard outside acclaiming the victorious toreador Escamillo, who enters followed by a throng of admirers. He returns Zunigaґs toast, drinking to his health, and describes the exhilaration of fighting a bull. Carmen immediately captures his attention but she shows no interest. Everyone leaves.
The smugglers Remendado and Dancairo arrive; they are about to depart and ask Carmen, Frasquita and Mercedes to help them carry their wares. Carmen refuses: she is in love and waiting for Jose. Mockingly, the smugglers suggest Jose joins their band.
Don Jose arrives. Carmen dances for him. When a signal is heard in the distance, summoning him back to his barracks he prepares to leave. Furious, Carmen accuses him of not loving her. In response he describes his passion and how, while in prison, he treasured the flower she threw at him when they first met. As proof, Carmen insists he deserts and goes with her to the mountains. Zuсiga unexpectedly appears; he has come to meet Carmen. When he sees Jose he orders him back to the barracks. Zuniga and Jose fight over Carmen. The smugglers run in and separate them; then they tie up Zuniga and Dancairo shoots him. Having refused to obey orders, Jose realises he has no choice other than to join the smugglers.
In the mountains
The exhausted smugglers are examining their goods. They have stopped for a short rest. Carmen and Jose are there too. Carmen senses that Jose would be prepared to kill her if she left him.
Frasquita and Mercedes read their fortunes with cards. They see a prosperous future. Carmen joins them. But however much she shuffles the cards, only death is foretold.
Dancaпro and Remendado return. The gypsy women leave, having been instructed to distract the customs officers who are blocking the smugglersґ path. Jose is left to guard the contraband goods.
Having overcome her fear, Micaela arrives. She is looking for Jose. A shot frightens her and she hides. It was Jose firing at an intruder – Escamillo. The toreador explains that he is pursuing Carmen, having heard that she no longer loves her soldier. The enraged Jose reveals himself and the rivals start to fight. Carmen stops them. Escamillo thanks her and invites everyone to his next bullfight in Seville and leaves. Crazed with jealousy, Jose threatens Carmen.
The smugglers find Micaлla in her hiding place. She has come to beg Josй to return to his mother. Carmen urges him to go. Micaela then reveals that Joseґs mother is dying and wants to forgive him. He agrees to accompany Micaela. Escamillo can be heard in the distance.
Outside a bull-ring in Seville
A crowd has gathered outside the bull-ring prior to the bullfight. As they arrive, the participants of the corrida receive a rapturous reception. Escamillo appears, with Carmen in his wake. Frasquita and Mercedes warn Carmen that Josй is following her, hidden in the crowd. However, she decides to wait and talk to him. All depart to watch the bullfight. Jose appears and pleads with her to return to him. She remains unyielding. She showers him with insults, provoking him. The crowd ecstatically greets Escamillo. Her rapture over the toreador makes Carmen betray her new love. She throws the ring Josй gave her in his face and heads towards the arena. Mad from suffering and humiliation he plunges a dagger into her.
The crowd rejoice at the toreadorґs victory.