A group of soldiers are relaxing in Lilias Pastella’s club. Carmen, the star of the show, performs, captivating Don José.
Micaëla arrives to give José a message and a kiss from his mother. The message urges José to return home and marry Micaëla. As he is about to agree to her wishes, a brawl erupts amongst the club’s performers which the soldiers must bring under control.
Carmen is arrested and delivers a private dance to Don Jose, knowingly referring to a bar that they can escape to together…
Carmen and her friends are rehearsing a new number at the club.
The rodeo rider Escamillo arrives and sets his sights on Carmen; she brushes him aside.
José arrives and Carmen dances for him. They are interrupted by a call, he must return for duty. Carmen demands that he show his love by leaving with her for a life of freedom.
Zuniga, José’s lieutenant, arrives looking for Carmen. He and José fight. Having attacked a superior officer, José has no choice other than to flee with Carmen.
Carmen has now become bored with José and wishes he would return to his mother.
Micaëla arrives seeking to find José and convince him to return to his previous life. She hears a gunshot; José has fired a shot at an intruder, who turns out to be the rodeo rider Escamillo. The pair fight, each claiming their love for Carmen.
Micaëla is discovered but José refuses to leave, until she reveals his mother is dying. He departs, vowing he will return again soon.
Escamillo and Carmen announce their mutual love for each other. While Escamillo is occupied, Carmen is confronted by a desperate José. He pleads for her to return to him, but Carmen throws down the ring he gave her and attempts to leave.
José stabs Carmen. He confesses to her murder.