At the same time celebrated and hated by her own sex, desired and punished by the opposite one, Carmen upsets. The hatred she causes comes from the desire she arises... Stage Director Marie-Eve Signeyrole explains on her debut at the Latvian National Opera: We chose to place Carmen’s action in a suburb, in the outskirts of a big city: the children who play outside and provoke the police, drug dealers settling scores, street artists and dancers trying to expressing themselves… A small scale and violent world marked by the extreme hardness of human relationships. We needed a place where sensuality, desire and freedom are forbidden by the social context. Carmen’s body has to be in itself a counterpoint to the concrete body of the buildings. A kind of new feminism related to the populations of the suburbs; an assumed femininity that plays with the rules established by men.
Away from the city centre, in a dark suburb with concrete buildings, Moralès and his agents watch the passers-by. Micaëla, a girl from a neighbouring suburb, asks Moralès if he knows José, and is told that he is expected shortly. Avoiding Moralès's oppressive invitation to stay with him, Micaëla escapes. When the police patrol has its shift changed, Moralès tells José that a girl is looking for him. A siren resounds in the city: there is a fire in one of the buildings. People gather at the foot of the building to watch it and help if needed. Carmen is wanted for questioning; she is suspected to have started the fire. She proclaims them that love obeys no laws. José pays no attention to her. Carmen throws him a flower in an attempt to change this. The crowd disperses. Micaëla returns. She gives José a letter from his mother, who urges him to marry Micaëla. A fight breaks out on the street. Carmen is at the heart of the brawl. She wounds her rival. Police separate them. Zuniga orders the arrest of Carmen and to cuff her. But Carmen convinces José to let her escape. José is arrested in her place.
Lillas Pastia and the local youth manage the neighbourhood’s abandoned basements and garages. Everybody frequents the illegal bar they’ve set up in one. Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès entertain Zuniga and other officers. Zuniga tells Carmen that José has been released that very day. The gang leader Escamillo enters, cheered by the crowd. He boasts about his adventures, including the carnal rewards that follow a successful fight. When the company has departed, the smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado ask for the girls’ help. Carmen refuses to leave because she has fallen in love with José and is waiting for him. The smugglers withdraw. Carmen dances for José, but then he hears the alarm calling him back to his barracks. Carmen, vexed, mocks him. He proclaims his love, which he grew during his long weeks in prison. She replies that if he truly loved her, he would desert and join her in a life of freedom. He refuses. She dismisses him contemptuously. Zuniga surprises and threatens them. The smugglers return and disarm Zuniga. They kill him. José as an eyewitness has no choice but to desert and join the smugglers.
While the gang gathers that night, Dancaïre and Remendado go on a reconnaissance mission. Carmen and José quarrel. The women read cards: Frasquita and Mercédès foresee rich lovers for themselves, but Carmen's cards spell death for her. Remendado and Dancaïre return, announcing that the police are on their trail. Carmen, Frasquita, and Mercédès set up an ambush and then leave. Micaëla appears. She fears to run into the woman who has turned the man she once loved into a criminal. She hides when a fight breaks out between Escamillo and José. Carmen and the smugglers return and separate them. Before he leaves, Escamillo invites everyone to be his guests at his next fight. Micaëla's presence is discovered. She begs José to go with her to see his dying mother. José promises Carmen that they will meet again.
Carmen and Escamillo are now lovers. Among the excited crowd cheering the parade of fighters, Frasquita and Mercédès warn Carmen, that José has been seen in the crowd. She prefers confrontation to running away. José implores her to forget the past and to start a new life with him. She tells him that she will never give in. She was born free and she will die free. While the crowd is heard cheering Escamillo, José tries to prevent Carmen from joining her new lover. She chooses freedom and takes her own life.