ACT I A square near the tobacco factory in Seville; soldiers are awaiting the change of their shift. Sergeant Morales sees a pretty village girl Micaela who has arrived in the city to see her fiancé, Jose and deliver him a letter from his mother. Jose is nowhere to be found so she leaves, and decides to return at a letter time.
The beauty of Sevillian women is known throughout Andalusia, but the irresistibly charming gypsy Carmen is more beautiful than anyone else.
The factory bell rings and the square is immediately crowded with workers. Jose is at his post. Amongst this large crowd of men present, is a beautiful gypsy, Carmen. She pays no attention to any of her many admirers, but rather to the only one who ignores her, Jose who she is so in love with. Carmen is adamant to win Jose’s love so in pursuit of his love, she throws a flower to him and runs away.
The workers are now returning to the factory after a break. Jose is alone in the square, closely observing the flower thrown to him by this mysterious gypsy. Micaela tries to divert his attention from thinking of Carmen by reminding him of his mother and the village they used to live in.
Suddenly, a cry is heard from behind the walls of the factory. Carmen has provoked a scandal and has injured a woman with a knife. On the order of Captain Zuniga, Jose leads Carmen into the square. However, Carmen is not afraid. Singing openly about her love for Jose, she declares that promises to love Jose forever if he sets her free. A wed by all this love and attention, Jose unbinds Carmen’s hands and she runs away.
ACT II The scene is the Tavern of Lillas Pastia’s, where all kinds of people come to conduct their affairs. Amongst the many who come there are smugglers Dancairo and Remendado and Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes who are trying to convince Carmen to participate with them. But she does not listen to them, for she is eagerly awaiting the return of Jose who is to be released from jail that night. Finally, they are to be re-united, when Jose gets a signal to the barracks. This does not stop Jose from meeting Carmen, but right at the entrance of the Tavern, Jose comes face to face with Captain Zuniga, who orders him to the barracks immediately.
This makes Jose indignant, and with a knife in hand Jose attacks Captain Zuniga. It is the smugglers who intervene and prevent blood-shed. Jose has no choice now but to join the smugglers.
It is late at night and the smugglers are going down a narrow path. Amongst them are Carmen and Jose. But now, Carmen no longer loves Jose. The gypsy's love, however, is as capricious as a mountain breeze. She is already smitten with another - the undefeated toreador Escamillo. She is indifferent to Jose's sacrifices for her and laughingly spurns his impassioned avowels of love.
Micaela, guided by her love for Jose reaches the scene as she comes to inform Jose that his mother is dying. She hears someone approaching so she hides. This someone is none other than Escamillo, the successful rival of Jose who has come in search of Carmen. A fight erupts. Carmen saves the toreador from death, but now Jose wants to kill her! Micaela prevents him from doing this and takes Jose away with her, but Jose threatens Carmen before leaving.
On the square near the Seville circus, a crowd of people is waiting for the beginning of the bullfight. The crowd welcomes Escamillo, accompanied by a proud and happy Carmen. Her friends warn her of the presence of Joce, but Carmen pays no heed. Jose approaches Carmen and begs her to return to him, but all in vain. Seeing that all entreaties are vain and Carmen already will never go back to him, Jose snatches out a knife and kills a gipsy.