A squarein Seville
In the guard house, Moralès and his soldiers are discussing the passers-by. Micaëla arrives, looking for the corporal Don José. Moralès explains that José isin another company that is due to take over the guard. Micaëla decides not to wait and departs. The officer Zuniga and José leadin the new guard, accompanied by a horde of children. Moralès tells José that Micaëla was asking for him.
It is break-time at the factory nearby and the women come out to smoke and flirt with the young men. Carmen is among them. She talks of love (L’amour est un oiseau rebelle), that it is elusive and inconstant. The bell rings, signalling the break is over. Carmen, desirous of catching José’s attention, throws him a flower. Enraptured, he quickly hides it.
Micaëla returns, bringing José a letter from his motherin which she asks him to return to marry Micaëla.
Uproar suddenly breaks outin the factory and the women pour into the square, accusing Carmen of drawing a knife on her friendin a quarrel. José is sent to question Carmen, but she refuses to answer. Zuniga orders José to take her to prison. Carmen starts to captivate José and tries to persuade him to release her. Forbidden to speak, she sings, contriving to arrange a rendezvous with him at Lillas Pastia’s tavern. He agrees to free her only if she will love him. She promises to do so, José frees her and is subsequently himself arrested.
Lillas Pastia’s tavern
Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès are entertaining gypsies and soldiers. Zuniga tells Carmen that José, 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 Zuniga’s 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 Dancaïro arrive; they are about to depart and ask Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès to help them carry their wares. Carmen refuses: she isin love and waiting for José. Mockingly, the smugglers suggest José joins their band.
Don José arrives. Carmen dances for him. When a signal is heardin 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, whilein 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. Zuniga unexpectedly appears; he has come to meet Carmen. When he sees José he orders him back to the barracks. Zuniga and José fight over Carmen. The smugglers runin and separate them; then they tie up Zuniga and Dancaïro shoots him. Having refused to obey orders, José realises he has no choice other than to join the smugglers.
In the mountains
The smugglers are examining their goods. They have stopped for a short rest. Carmen and José are there too. Carmen senses that José would be prepared to kill her if she left him.
Frasquita and Mercédès read their fortunes with cards. They see a prosperous future. Carmen joins them. But however much she shuffles the cards, only death is foretold.
Dancaïro and Remendado return. The gypsy women leave, having been instructed to distract the customs officers who are blocking the smugglers’ path. José is left to guard the contraband goods.
Having overcome her fear, Micaëla arrives. She is looking for José. A shot frightens her and she hides. It was José firing at an intruder — Escamillo. The toreador explains that he is pursuing Carmen, having heard that she no longer loves her soldier. The enraged José reveals himself and the rivals start to fight. Carmen stops them. Escamillo thanks her and invites everyone to his next bullfightin Seville and leaves. Crazed with jealousy, José threatens Carmen.
The smugglers find Micaëlain her hiding place. She has come to beg José to return to his mother. Carmen urges him to go. Micaëla then reveals that José’s mother is dying and wants to forgive him. He agrees to accompany Micaëla.
Outside a bull-ringin 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 Carmenin his wake. Frasquita and Mercédès warn Carmen that José is following her, hiddenin the crowd. However, she decides to wait and talk to him. All depart to watch the bullfight. José appears and pleads with her to return to him. She remains unyielding, she loves the toreador. The crowd ecstatically greets Escamillo. Mad from suffering he plunges a dagger into her.
The crowd rejoice at the toreador’s victory.