Opera in four acts by Georges Bizet. Performed in French with German surtitles.
Moralès and his soldiers are guarding the women in the cigarette factory, and watching the hustle and bustle of activity around them. Micaëla is looking for Brigadier José. The soldiers are pursuing her, Micaëla runs away. José reports for duty with the new watch. Moralès tells him about the young girl who was asking for him. From the description, José recognises Micaëla - an orphan his mother took in. Lieutenant Zuniga, new to the troop, questions José about the cigarette workers who rumour says are so attractive. The workers take their break which is eagerly awaited by the soldiers. They are all interested in Carmen who provokes them with her fantasy about love. José pretends not to notice her. This attracts Carmen's attention and she throws him a flower that is supposed to be magical. The break is over. Micaëla brings José a letter from his mother, in which she expresses her wish that he marry Micaëla. There is a quarrel in the factory between the women: Carmen is supposed to have wounded Manuelita with a knife by scoring a cross on her cheek. José is ordered by Zuniga to investigate the incident, and he declares Carmen guilty. She is arrested and José is supposed to imprison her. Carmen, who finds the whole situation very amusing, entices him into allowing her to escape while promising to meet up with him again at Lillas Pastia's inn. Zuniga demotes José and now has him taken to prison.
Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès are celebrating with other bohemians at Lillas Pastia's inn. Zuniga and some of his soldiers are mingling with the guests. Carmen learns from Zuniga, who is trying in vain to win Carmen's favour, that José was released a few hours before. Pastia wants to close the inn. A torch light procession approaches honouring Escamillo, the famous bull-fighter. Escamillo describes his perilous profession. Carmen and Escamillo meet. Lillas Pastia closes because his inn is also the headquarters of a gang of smugglers. Dancairo, the leader of the gang, together with Remendado tries to persuade the three women to take part in a deal. They are all ready to do so except Carmen who surprisingly refuses. She cannot, she is in love and is waiting for someone: José. In the distance, she can hear her lover's voice. Carmen sings and dances for him but the tattoo that is calling José back to barracks, although he would like to stay with Carmen, throws him into an inner conflict. Carmen is hurt and angry. José tries to justify his action and admits that he has never loved a women like this before. Carmen tries to persuade José to desert and enjoy his freedom with her in the mountains. But this is unthinkable for José. Zuniga returns in the hope of meeting Carmen. He humiliates José. They fight. Carmen sends for the smugglers. Zuniga is killed by Dancaïro. José's fate is sealed, he is now forced to join the smugglers.
A deserted place in the mountains. The smugglers, including Carmen and Don José, appear in the gorge. Carmen has tired of José, José is fighting fiercely for her. Frasquita, Mercédès and Carmen read their fortunes from the cards. Frasquita and Mercédès see passionate love, marriage and a rich inheritance. The cards confirm Carmen's foreboding that she will soon have to die. She flings herself into distracting gaiety. Furtively, Micaëla has managed to get herself from Lillas Pastia's to the smugglers' quarters and wants to persuade the dishonourable José to return. José is supposed to guard the camp while the smugglers pursue their business. Searching for Carmen, Escamillo encounters her lover and mocks him. They fight, Carmen intervenes and saves the bull-fighter's life. He then invites the gang, and in particular Carmen who he is in love with, to his next bullfight. Micaëla is discovered by the smugglers in her hiding place and successfully appeals to José to accompany her to his dying mother. José curses Carmen because she rejects him. He cannot give Carmen up and tells her that he will return.
The people of Seville are in a jolly holiday mood. The people are delighted about the forthcoming bullfight. Escamillo is waiting for Carmen. In view of the fight he faces, he has to know whether she loves him. José is in the crowd and conceals himself. Although warned by Frasquita and Mercédès, Carmen meets him. José is still in love with Carmen and does not want her to leave him. Carmen wants the freedom to love whoever she wants, when she wants. She loves Escamillo. José stabs Carmen.