Composer: Georges Bizet
Librettists: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Source: a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée
Premiere: 3 March 1875 at Opéra-Comique, Paris
List of characters
Carmen: a gypsy, mezzo-soprano
Don José: a corporal of dragoons, tenor
Escamillo: a toreador, baritone
Micaëla: a peasant girl, soprano
Zuniga: a lieutenant, bass
Moralès: a sergeant, baritone
Frasquita: a gypsy, soprano
Mercédès: a gypsy, soprano
Lillas Pastia: an inn-keeper, spoken part
Andrès: a lieutenant, tenor
Le Dancaïre: a smuggler, tenor/baritone
Le Remendado: a smuggler, tenor
‘Sur la place chacun passe’ (chorus of soldiers, Moralès, Micaëla)
‘Avec la garde montante’ (chorus of urchins, Zuniga)
‘La cloche a sonné’ (chorus of citizens, soldiers, cigarette girls)
Habanera: ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ (Carmen, chorus of citizens)
‘Carmen! Sur tes pas nous pressons!’ (chorus of citizens and cigarette girls)
‘Parle-moi de ma mère’ (José, Micaëla)
‘Que se passe-t-il là-bas? Au secours! Au secours!’ (chorus of cigarette girls, soldiers, Zuniga)
‘Tra-la-la … Coupe-moi, brûle-moi’ (Carmen, Zuniga, cigarette girls, José)
Seguidilla: ‘Près des remparts de Séville’ (Carmen, José)
Finale: ‘Voici l’ordre; partez’ (Zuniga, Carmen)
‘Les tringles des sistres tintaient’ (Carmen, Mercédès, Frasquita)
‘Vivat! Vivat le torero!’ (chorus of Escamillo’s followers, Zuniga, Mercédès, Frasquita, Moralès, Lillas Pastia)
Toreador Song: ‘Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre’ (Escamillo, Frasquita, Mercédès, Carmen, Moralès, Zuniga, Lillas Pastia, chorus)
Quintette: ‘Nous avons en tête une affaire!’ (le Dancaïre, le Remendado, Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès)
‘Halte-là! Qui va là?’ (José, Carmen, Mercédès, Frasquita, le Dancaïre, le Remendado)
‘Je vais danser en votre honneur … La fleur que tu m’avais jetée … Non! Tu ne m’aimes pas!’ (Carmen, José)
Finale: ‘Holà! Carmen! Holà!’ (Zuniga, José, Carmen, le Dancaïre, le Remendado, Mercédès, Frasquita, chorus)
‘Écoute, compagnon, écoute’ (chorus of smugglers, Mercédès, Frasquita, Carmen, José, le Dancaïre , le Remendado)
‘Mêlons! – Coupons!’ (Frasquita, Mercédès, Carmen)
‘Quant au douanier, c’est notre affaire’ (Frasquita, Mercédès, Carmen, le Dancaïre, le Remendado, chorus)
‘C’est les contrabandiers le refuge ordinaire’ (Micaëla)
‘Je suis Escamillo, torero de Grenade!’ (Escamillo, José)
Finale: ‘Holà holà José!’ (Carmen, Escamillo, Micaëla, Frasquita, Mercédès, le Dancaïre, José, le Remendado, chorus)
‘A deux cuartos!’ (chorus of citizens, Zuniga, Moralès, Frasquita, Mercédès)
‘Les voici, voici la quadrille … Si tu m’aimes, Carmen’ (chorus of citizens, children, Escamillo, Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès)
Finale: ‘C’est toi! – C’est moi!’ (Carmen, José, chorus)
Set in Seville in around 1830, the opera tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naive soldier who is seduced by the fiery gypsy girl Carmen. He deserts his childhood sweetheart Micaëla and his military duties. But he is driven wild with jealousy when Carmen falls for glamorous matador Escamillo. The final act, outside the bullring in Seville, brings Escamillo to the arena, accompanied by Carmen, who is stabbed to death by José.
The story begins in a town square in Seville. Soldiers and townspeople linger in the square when the peasant girl Micaëla appears and asks after the whereabouts of Don José. He will arrive shortly, the soldiers tell her and encourage her to stay with them; she declines and leaves. José. appears and then the women of the nearby cigarette factory arrive, including the beautiful and feisty gypsy Carmen. The men and women flirt, with the former begging Carmen to choose a lover. She replies with the aria Habanera, in which she claims that love is untameable. She tosses a flower to José.
The women return to factory and Micaëla reappears to give José a letter and a kiss from his mother. The letter tells the soldier to marry Micaëla, his childhood sweetheart, and on hearing this she retreats, embarrassed. José promises that he will heed his mother’s words. But a fight breaks out between Carmen and another factory woman. Lieutenant Zuniga commands José to arrest Carmen, but the beautiful gypsy seduces him with a song of passion. Beguiled, José allows Carmen to escape and he is arrested for failing in his duty.
In Lilas Pastia’s tavern, Carmen and her two friends Frasquita and Mercédès are entertaining the soldiers, including Zuniga. A procession announces the arrival of Escamillo, the toreador. Both Zuniga and Escamillo try to capture Carmen’s heart, but she brushes them aside. The crowd dissipates, leaving only Carmen and her two friends. The smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado arrive and explain their latest money-making scheme. Frasquita and Mercédès are keen to help, but Carmen refuses because José is to be released from prison that day and she is meeting him at the inn.
When José shows up, Carmen dances for him, but her performance is cut short by the sound of a bugle calling the soldiers back to the barracks. José says he must go but Carmen mocks him. He tries to prove his love by showing her the flower she threw to him and which he has kept for weeks. She counters that if he truly loved her he would desert the army and live a gypsy life with him.
Lieutenant Zuniga returns and he and José fight. The smugglers show up and separate the two, but now José must leave with Carmen as he has attacked a superior officer.
José and Carmen are hiding out in the mountains with the smugglers. Carmen has decided she is no longer in love with José – instead she prefers the more exciting Escamillo. José is missing his home and his mother and Carmen laughs at him, telling him to return to them, but he refuses.
Carmen’s two friends amuse themselves with tarot cards. Their own futures are full of love and riches, but when they read Carmen’s cards, they foretell death for her and José. Micaëla appears, looking for José, but frightened by a gunshot she hides. Escamillo arrives to find Carmen. In a jealous rage, José fights the toreador. Micaëla emerges from her hiding place to beg José to return home with her; in desperation she tells him his mother is dying and he leaves with her, but not before threatening Carmen that they will meet again.
Back in Seville, a crowd is waiting to enter the bullring to watch Escamillo. Lieutenant Zuniga, Frasquita and Mercédès are among them. Escamillo and Carmen enter and he leaves to prepare for his performance. Carmen’s two friends warn her that José is lurking in the crowd, but she is unafraid. José reveals himself, but Carmen informs him she no longer loves him. Driven to madness, he stabs her through the heart and the tragic Carmen dies as her new lover Escamillo defeats the bull. As the crowds leave, José confesses his crime.
Carmen’s Defiance, Act IV, from The Victrola Book of the Opera via commons.wikimedia.org.