A square, in Seville
A group of soldiers are relaxing in the square. A bell tolls and women spill out onto the square. Carmen arrives, the men rush to her and plead that she choose one of them as her lover. She tells them that love is free, like a bird that no one can tame.
Carmen throws a flower to Don José seductively, he ignores her. The women return to the factory.
Micaëla arrives to give José a letter and a kiss from his mother. The letter urges José to return home and marry Micaëla. As he is about to agree to her wishes, the women run out of the factory in great agitation.
Carmen has attacked someone with a knife. José tries to arrest Carmen, but she suggests they meet later that night to drink and dance. He lets her go. José is arrested for dereliction of duty.
Lillas Pastia’s Inn
Carmen and her friends are entertaining officers in a local inn, she is delighted to hear José has been released from detention.
The toreador Escamillo arrives and sets his sights on Carmen; she brushes him aside.
José arrives and Carmen dances for him. They are interrupted by a distant call from the Barracks, 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.
A wild spot in the mountains
Carmen has now become bored with José and wishes he would return to his mother.
Micaëla enters the camp 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 bullfighter 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.
A square in Seville
Escamillo and Carmen arrive at the bullfighting ring together, announcing their mutual love for each other. As Escamillo enters the arena, 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.