Like all opera, Carmen by Georges Bizet is performed in foreign tounges and I had to unravel the story before seeing it on stage.
It helps to get the story before getting swept in the emotional power of big operatic voices and in this case the beauty of ballet dance during overtures.
The opera is based on a story by the French novelist Prosper Meimee, performed in French, set in Seville around 1820. The story goes like this:
Don Jose is a corporal who received a visit from the fair Micaela. She is his dear, modest childhood friend who came to bring tidings from his mother and most importantly: a kiss. His heart is struck and in an aside he declares his love for her and resolves to marry the gentle Micaela.
All is sweet and rosy until his quarters are stormed by a herd of cigarette-factory girls and the feistiest of the bunch sets her fiery eyes on him. At first Don Jose seems unaffected but “L’amour est un oiseau rabelle” she throws a flower at him and leaves him (and every other man) enchanted by her charms. Don Jose quickly forgets his fair Micaela and is entirely intoxicated by the aroma of Carmen’s flower.
Passionate love duets resonate: she’s in love with him, he’s in love with her… this goes on for about an act– then entrée un rival— Carmen falls in love yet again and the unlucky Don Jose is sent off to simmer in a puddle of jealousy.
The fourth and final act opens with a great festive scene in the streets of Seville as Carmen declares her undying love for Escamillo. Meanwhile, Don Jose is looming in the crowds and although Carmen is warned of the impending danger, she displays her courage and goes out to meet her jealous lover. He embarks in an arduous struggle to win back her love, but to no avail. She will not have him, he will not let himself “not be had” and dum-da-duh– overtaken with passion he seizes Carmen and thrusts his dagger into her heart.
The crowd gasps. The curtain falls.