Opera in three acts
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Based on a novella by Prosper Merimee
Choir, ballet, children's choir
Nothing is more desirable and more dangerous than a woman who has a secret. Carmen is a mystery, a tempest. Many would like to unravel her mystery, but in vain.
The yearning for freedom, expansion and risk, the adrenaline and adventurism. There are those who live and breathe this, while others only dream of giving in to their desire for freedom one day.
Bizet’s Carmen is the most popular opera. It has been translated into every language and is included in the repertoires of all opera houses in the world. Its popularity is not limited to opera stages. The music has flooded every space in our art, as well as everyday life. Like the fate of Merimee’s novella’s characters, the space and time shifts in the minds of those who continue the search for her elusive figure.
Micaela, a sweet girl, is looking for Jose at his mother’s request. Jose’s mother dreams of his return and marriage. Modest and well brought up Micaela is an ideal bride. Jose, on the other hand, remains befuddled by the behaviour and antics of capricious and wilful women. Among them is the beautiful Carmen. She draws all men to herself like a magnet. All but Jose. This is what attracts Carmen. Their encounter, which is the beginning of their love story, changes their fates forever.
Micaela gives Jose a letter from his mother. He promises to do his mother’s bidding, but his thoughts of Carmen, like a thorn in his flesh, he cannot expel.
Jose hears women’s screams. The women burst in and tell Zuniga about the fight, where one of the women was hurt. Carmen is the instigator of the fight and they want her punished. Zuniga orders Jose to apprehend Carmen until her official arrest.
Jose and Carmen are alone. Carmen promises Jose unforgettable evenings in a cosy nook. Jose tries to harness his willpower to resists the girl’s charms, but to no avail. He frees Carmen. Zuniga orders Jose’s arrest for Carmen’s escape.
Carmen and her friends are whiling away the time in their usual manner, entertaining Zuniga with songs, dances, wine and merriment. Zuniga tells Carmen that Jose is released from prison. As his reward, he wants a date with Carmen.
An unexpected guest – Escamillo, everyone’s favourite – joins the party. Fame, lustre, cries of admiration – this is the national hero’s everyday life.
He notices Carmen among all the gorgeous women and expresses his hope for another rendezvous. The crowd follows him out.
Her friends, who had pulled off numerous dangerous dealings together with Carmen, join her. As per usual, Dancaire, Remendado, Frasquita and Mercedes are proposing a profitable enterprise. Carmen refuses to join. She knows that once he is free, Jose will certainly come to see her. The friends make fun of Carmen. Is she in love? Yet again? Anyway, a lad in a uniform will come in handy. Perhaps, Carmen will be able to recruit him.
Jose is happy. He managed to escape the barracks to meet his loved one. Carmen is tender, gracious, seductive. But the trumpets call Jose back to his duty. Love is the main battlefield for Carmen, and the one who runs away from it is a deserter. Carmen persuades Jose to come with her.
A drunken Zuniga barges in. He demands that Jose gets back to the barracks. They fight. Carmen’s friends are drawn by the noise. They let Zuniga know that he should leave while he is still in one piece, and they try to talk Jose into joining them. After all that happened there is no going back to military service for Jose. He is ready to follow Carmen to the end of the world.
Carmen’s friends start their voyage. They must smuggle their contraband through dangerous mountain passes and gorges. Jose is an alien among them. He is not a serviceman anymore; neither is he a contrabandist yet. He sees the changes in Carmen. She is cold, calculating and businesslike. Carmen’s friends are reading the cards. One of them is to achieve wealth, another – love. Carmen’s cards predict death.
Following their footsteps, a guide leads Micaela to their encampment. She prays to God to help her save Jose.
Suddenly, she sees Jose with a gun in his hands. A shot is fired. Micaela hides.
Escamillo appears. The bullet passed right by his head.
Escamillo tells Jose how thoughts of Carmen have compelled him to undertake the long and perilous journey. Jose is blinded by jealousy. He challenges Escamillo to a duel. Brandishing their knives, the men fight. Carmen stops them before blood is spilled. Escamillo invites everyone, including Carmen, to a bullfight. He leaves and the smugglers get ready to continue their journey. Unexpectedly, Remendado finds Micaela.
Everyone is surprised by the appearance of the unknown girl. Jose recognizes Micaela and she tries to persuade him to come back home. Carmen urges him on and mocks him. Jose is furious. He’s ready to kill Carmen. Jose is stopped by the terrible news that his mother is at death’s door. Micaela manages to lead him away.
Carmen hears Escamillo’s voice in the mountains. The cards forebode death. But what does the toreador’s victorious melody forebode? New love? New life?
The people are in anticipation of festivities. Everyone is waiting for Escamillo. When he finally appears, he is not alone, but accompanied by the beautiful Carmen. They follow their hero. Her friends, Frasquita and Mercedes, stop Carmen. They tell her of Jose’s presence and their concern for her. But Carmen decides: there is no escaping one’s fate.
Jose appears. He begs, intimidates, but Carmen does not hear his pleas and his threats. She does not love him anymore and she is afraid of nothing. She wants to join the shouting crowds. Jose will not allow Carmen to leave with another. Carmen throws away the ring – the symbol of their love and devotion.
Jose kills Carmen and cries in despair: “Arrest me! I killed her! My Carmen!”