Opera in four acts by Georges Bizet. Text by Meilhac and Halevy, founded on the story of Prosper Merimee.
Carmen, the heroine, is a Spanish gypsy, fickle and wayward, endowed with all the wild graces of her nation. She is adored by her people, and so it is not to be wondered at that she has many of the stronger sex at her feet. She tries to charm Don Jose, a brigadier of the Spanish army; of course he is one out of many; she soon grows tired of him, and awakens his jealousy by a thousand caprices and cruelties.
Don Jose is betrothed to the sweet and lovely Micaela, waiting for him at home, but she is forgotten as soon as he sees the proud gypsy.
Micaela seeks him out, bringing to him the portrait and the benediction of his mother, aye, even her kiss, which she gives him with blushes. His tenderness is gone, however, so far as Micaela is concerned, as soon as he casts one look into the lustrous eyes of Carmen. This passionate creature has involved her-self in a quarrel and wounded one of her companions, a laborer in a cigarette manufactory. She is to be taken to prison, but Don Jose lets her off, promising to meet her in the evening at an inn kept by a man named Lillas Pastia, where they are to dance the seguedilla.
In the second act we find them there together, with the whole band of gypsies. Don Jose, more and more infatuated by Carmen’s charms, is willing to join the vagabonds, who are at the same time smugglers. He accompanies them in a dangerous enterprise of this kind, but no sooner has he submitted to sacrifice love and honor for the gypsy than she begins to tire of his attentions. Jose has pangs of conscience, he belongs to another sphere of society and his feelings are of a softer kind than those of nature’s unruly child. She transfers her affections to a bullfighter named Escamillo, another of her suitors, who returns her love more passionately. A quarrel ensues between the two rivals. Escamillo’s knife breaks and he is about to be killed by Don Jose, when Carmen intervenes, holding back his arm. Don Jose, seeing that she has duped him, now becomes her deadly foe, filled with sudden hatred and longing for revenge.
Micaela, the tender-hearted maiden, who follows him everywhere like a guardian angel, reminds him of his lonely mother, everybody advises him to let the fickle Carmen aloneCarmen who never loved the same man for more than six weeks. But in vain, till Micaela tells him of the dying mother asking incessantly for her son; then at last he consents to go with her, but not without wild imprecations on his rival and his faithless love.
In the fourth act we find ourselves in Madrid. There is to be a bullfight; Escamillo, its hero, has invited the whole company to be present in the circus. Don Jose appears there too, trying for the last time to regain his bride. Carmen, though warned by a fellow-gypsy, Frasquita, knows no fear. She meets her old lover outside the arena, where he tries hard to touch her heart. He kneels at her feet, vowing never to forsake her and to be one of her own people, but Carmen, though wayward, is neither a coward nor a liar, and boldly declares that her affections are given to the bullfighter, whose triumphs are borne to their ears on the shouts of the multitude. Almost beside himself with love and rage, Jose seizes her hand and attempts to drag her away, but she escapes from him, and throwing the ring, Jose’s gift, at his feet, rushes to the door of the arena. He overtakes her, however, and just as the trumpets announce Escamillo’s victory, in a perfect fury of despair he stabs her through the heart, and the victorious bullfighter finds his beautiful bride a corpse.