Bizet Opera Carmen

Opera synopsis, characters, and other information of Bizet's Carmen

The French opera Carmen by Georges Bizet is one of the most famous and loved operas of all-time. The libretto is written by Henry Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novel by the same name, written by author Prosper Mérimée. Bizet found great opposition to the work, as many critics and the general public found the opera plot “indecent” during the time.

Carmen is first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875. For French opera, Carmen broke new dramatic ground as it moved away from opera buffa (comic opera), to a deeper tragic story. Sadly, composer Bizet did not live to see that his work was to become one of the most often performed operas in the world.

The 4-act opera setting takes place in Seville, Spain. The original opera production of Carmen had spoken dialog rather than recitative. After Bizet's death, his friend Ernest Guiraud replaced the dialog to a sung recitative.

Famous Arias from Carmen:
  • L'amour est un oiseau rebelle - Carmen
  • La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (The flower song) - Don José
  • Votre toast, je peux le rendre (Toreador song) - Escamillo

Characters from Bizet's opera Carmen:

  • Carmen, a gypsy (mezzo soprano)
  • Don José, Corporal of the Dragoons (tenor)
  • Escamillo, Toreador/ bullfighter (bass-baritone)
  • Micaëla, a village maiden (soprano)
  • Zuniga, Captain of the Dragoons (bass)
  • Morales, Officer (baritone)
  • Frasquita, gypsy companion of Carmen (soprano)
  • Mercedes, gypsy companion of Carmen (mezzo soprano)
  • El Dancaïro, a smuggler (baritone)
  • El Remendado, a smuggler (tenor)

The Plot / Synopsis of the Opera Carmen:

Act I.  In Seville, Spain, in a square outside of a cigarette factory

An officer of the Dragoons, Morales, is with his guards on watch. Micaëla comes looking for Don José her fiancé. Bothered by soldiers flirting, she leaves the square. Captain Zuniga arrives with Don José to relieve the guard. Noontime, Carmen arrives in the square with the cigarette-girls, coming out of the factory. All of the men flock to her asking for her love. At first Don José did not notice her. She throws a flower at his feet and chooses him as the man she loves. She flees. Don José is flattered by Carmen’s gesture, but he thinks of Micaëla. There is commotion from the factory. Carmen has attacked another woman and Captain Zuniga orders Don José to arrest her. He does, but Carmen seduces him to let her escape. He does, and he is arrested.

Act II. A month later, Carmen and her friends are having a good time drinking and dancing at an inn, a hangout for a group of smugglers

Captain Zuniga and his men enter the inn. Zuniga tries to woo Carmen. She is not taken and refuses his advances. She has promised to meet Don José there. Escamillo, the great bullfighter, enters the bar and falls in-love with Carmen. Meanwhile, two smugglers, Remendado and Dancaïro, also enter the bar to tell Carmen and her gypsy friends, Frasquita and Mercedes, that their help is needed for a smuggling operation. Waiting for Don José, Carmen refuses to leave. Having been released from jail, Don José arrives. The bar becomes empty, leaving him and Carmen. She entertains him with a private dance, which is only interrupted by the call of the bugles. Don José's troops have been called to retreat. As he is about to leave, Carmen gets angry. He vows his love to her. Zuniga returns to the inn ordering Don José to leave at once. He refuses to follow the order. They draw swords, and both disarmed. Zuniga is taken away at gunpoint. Having openly defied a superior officer, Don José is forced to join the smugglers.

Act III. Don José and the band of smugglers are on the outskirts of town

Carmen has lost affections for José. She, along with Frasquita and Mercedes, are reading tarot cards. Carmen pulls the death card. The smugglers depart, leaving Don José to guard over the camp. Micaëla approaches. As she comes near, Don José, who does not see her, fires a shot in her direction, intending it for Escamillo who he has seen. Escamillo introduces himself as Carmen's lover. They duel with knives. Carmen steps in and saves Escamillo's life. Micaëla also has come to find Don José telling him to return home to his dying mother. Before leaving, Don José warns Carmen that he will return.

Act IV.  In a square at Seville, a parade is entering the bull-fighting arena

Escamillo who is with the parade is joined by Carmen. The other smugglers tell her that she needs to go away because Don José has come to kill her but she does not listen. Don José pleads with her of his love and offers to rejoin the smugglers. She laughs at him, and throws the ring that he gave her. She tells him that it's Escamillo she loves until death. In the bull ring arena, the crowd roars for Escamillo. As Carmen goes to join Escamillo, the outraged and jealous José grabs her from behind and stabs her in the heart. At the moment's height of Escamillo's victory inside the arena, Carmen dies.

Video Credit:

Bizet Opera Carmen, uploaded by pulsphoto. Accessed 3 March 2014.Julia Migenes: the definitive Carmen.


Batta, András (2000). Opera: Composers, Works, Performers. Cologne: Könemann.

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