A bustling square in the city of Seville. Dragoon guards are watching over the crowd. Micaëla comes in search of Don José whose mother is sending him a letter through her. As José is not to be found, Micaëla leaves. José arrives with his company to relieve the guards. Female workers of the tobacco make their way from work through the square. Carmen the gypsy is among them. All the men are fascinated by her, but she refuses to love them back: she is drawn to the indifferent one, Don José. As she leaves, she throws at him a cassia flower. Micaëla returns. She and José reminisce about their native land. When Micaëla goes away, José reads his mother’s letter. He is decided to do as she says and marry Micaëla.
Suddenly the peace is disturbed: Carmen has started a quarrel with her fellow worker. Two fighting women are set apart, and José is to escort Carmen to jail. Carmen promises him her love if he helps her escape. José surrenders to her charm.
Gypsy girls entertain the soldiers at Lillas Pastia’s. Escamillo the toreador praises his dangerous trade, and is in his turn praised by the enrapt crowd. Escamillo is captivated by Carmen, but she is not interested in him.
The smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado arrive. They tempt Carmen and her friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, to assist them in a fat job. Carmen refuses: she is in love and awaits the soldier who was confined because of her. It is José, and he does not hesistate to keep their appointment once he is free. Carmen is happy to see him and eager to dance for him alone. A bugle call summons José back to the barracks. He intends to go, and Carmen annoyed with his obedience to command.
Suddenly Zuniga, José’s senior, arrives at the inn. He goes after Carmen, but the smugglers interfere. Zuniga is overpowered, and José has to join the smugglers.
Smugglers’ camp. José is jealous of his lover and ashamed of being a deserter.
Carmen reads the cards and is foretold death.
The smugglers, including Frasquita and Mercédès, are in for a job, and Carmen decides to join them to help cajole the customs officers.
Escamillo comes to the camp. He wants to see Carmen and declares his love for her. José is ready to kill his rival, but Carmen stops their combat. As he leaves, Escamillo invites everyone to a bullfight.
Micaëla arrives. She was looking for José to inform him of his mother’s mortal ilness. José has to go with her and leave Carmen.
A square in front of an arena where a bullfight is about to start. Carmen and Escamillo arrive together, they are happily in love. Frasquita and Mercédès warn Carmen to beware of José, but Carmen is intrepid.
She stays behind the crowd and meets José face to face. José implores Carmen to go with him and love him again, but she is adamant: her heart belongs to another.
Desperate and enraged, José kills Carmen.