Discover Carmen

Carmena searing depiction of a woman who craves love, but creates obsession and jealousy, is one of the most popular operas ever written.

Bizet‘s Spanish-inflected score is bursting with passionate melodies and famous numbers such as Carmen’s seductive ‘Habanera’ and Escamillo’s ‘Toreador song’.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about this dramatic love story, including a full overview of Carmen’s plot and previews of what you can expect from the 2023 performance.


Carmen Opera Synopsis

Act I

Soldiers parade in the square. Micaëla arrives, looking for José. Moralès tells her that José is on the next watch. He tries to persuade her to wait with them, but Micaëla decides to return later. A crowd of street children appears, followed by the relief guard headed by Zuniga.

The square fills up with soldiers and women from the factory. Carmen attracts the most attention. Before returning to the factory, she throws a flower to José, which he picks up when everyone else has dispersed.

Micaëla returns and gives José the letter from his mother. Suddenly there is uproar in the factory and a crowd of women rushes out. They accuse Carmen of drawing a knife during a fight with another girl. Carmen refuses to answer Zuniga’s questions and he decides to send her to prison. While Zuniga is writing out the warrant, Carmen seduces José, who lets her escape.

Act II: Two Months Later

Carmen and her friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, are entertaining Zuniga and Moralès. A crowd of soldiers arrives with the celebrated bullfighter Escamillo. He is instantly attracted to Carmen.

Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès are left alone with Dancairo and Remendado, who have a plan for which they need the girls’ help. Frasquita and Mercédès are ready, but Carmen says she cannot join them because she has fallen in love with José and is expecting him.

José’s voice is heard in the distance. He declares his love for Carmen, who dances for him. When the roll-call sounds from the barracks, José is torn between his military duty and his feelings for Carmen. At the moment José decides to leave, Zuniga returns. José is fiercely jealous and starts a fight with his superior officer. Carmen’s associates return and deal with Zuniga. José realizes that his army career is over and he now has no choice but to join them.

Act III: Several Months Later

Black-market smugglers come by night to the border. Carmen’s and José’s love affair has run its course: she has grown tired of him and he, though still obsessed with her, is tense and unpredictable. Frasquita and Mercédès hope to read their fortunes in a pack of cards; when Carmen cuts the cards, they foretell only her death. The women leave to decoy some customs guards, and José remains behind in the camp.

Micaëla and Escamillo converge on the deserted encampment, seeking José and Carmen respectively. Micaëla hides as José confronts and fights Escamillo. Carmen and the smugglers return and stop them, and Escamillo invites the whole party to his next bullfight.

Micaëla is discovered. She begs José to return to his dying mother.

Act IV: Outside the Bullring

A crowd has gathered for Escamillo’s bullfight. The toreros enter to enthusiastic acclaim; Carmen is with Escamillo. After Escamillo has entered the arena, Carmen meets José. She taunts him and he kills her.


A performance of Carmen at the ENO’s London Coliseum is roughly 2hrs 45mins, which includes a 25-minute interval.

Carmen was written by French composer, Georges Bizet (1838–1875). Bizet composed the opera in collaboration with top librettists of the time, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, who adapted the story based on Prosper Mérimée’s novella of the same title.

Carmen was written in 1875. Unfortunately, the opera was Georges Bizet’s final composition before he died tragically of a heart attack mid-way through one of Carmen’s opening performances – exactly three months after it premiered.

Inspired by real, scandalous tales collected by the author of the original 1845 novella while travelling in Spain, Carmen is a dramatic tale of love, jealousy and tragedy. It tells the story of a hopeless soldier, Don José, who is seduced by Carmen, a fiery gypsy woman with an appetite for smuggling. Abandoning his childhood sweetheart and turning his back on his military career, the opera follows José in his pursuit of Carmen’s attention. Though despite his efforts and desperation, Don José’s quest for love doesn’t end quite how he’d hoped…

Carmen is set in a remote frontier town in Seville, Spain during the 1820s. However, the ENO’s production directed by Calixto Bieito relocates the scene of this passionate love story to an early 1970s Spanish colony – a time towards the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

Read the introductory guide to Carmen