The opera Carmen shows another example of  how the personality of the lover can change and expand through the lover’s  identification with the beloved.

The setting is in Seville Spain in the 1850’s outside a cigarette factory. It was so hot in Seville that women would work in their underwear as they made cigarettes. In reality, the cigarette factory had a reputation throughout Europe. Men would travel for miles to look through the windows to get a glimpse at the scantily clad pretty women. When the opera is staged, women are often seen smoking cigarettes. A woman who smoked was thought to be a sexually liberated woman in those days.

A number of soldiers including Corporal Don Jose are lingering outside the Guard house in Seville when a group of women who work in the cigarette  factory come onto the Square on  a break. Carman comes out with an acacia flower between her breasts. Men surround her. Don Jose ignores Carman as she sings about her philosophy of love while looking at Don Jose. The song is called the Habanera. It is Carmen’s signature song

Carmen is a beautiful gypsy. She sings: When will I love you, never perhaps, but perhaps tomorrow. Certainly not today. Love is a rebel bird. Nobody can ever tame it. If this bird does not love you, you can call him in vain. One man talks well, while the other is silent, but I may choose the silent one because I like his looks. However, love is like a gypsy child, it has never known laws. If  I love you, you had best beware, because I, like the bird that you thought you had caught, could fly away when you least expect it.

Carmen makes it quite clear she cannot be owned or possessed and if you love her, you take your chances. She follows her passions. Note the sultry seductive tone of her voice.


When will I love you?

I have know idea!

Never perhaps; perhaps tomorrow.

But not today, that is certain.

Love, love is a rebel bird

That nobody can ever tame,

And you call him quite in vain

If it suits him not to come.

Nothing helps, nor threat, nor prayer.

One man talks well, the other is mum;

It’s the other one I prefer.

He’s silent but I like his looks.

Love! Love! Love! Love!

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Don Jose is ignoring her through all of this. Carmen is drawn to this quiet man. She takes out the acacia flower from between her breasts and throws it at him. He reacts as if  he has been struck by a thunderbolt. Suddenly, the factory bell rings and the girls return to work. The soldiers return to the guard house and Don Jose, left alone, picks up the flower.

Later, a fight breaks out in the factory and the girls pour out onto the square alternately blaming Carmen and Manuelita. Jose goes inside with two guards and emerges holding Carmen, whom he found out, struck the other girl in the course of an argument. Repeatedly asked by Lieutenant Zuniga to account for her actions, Carmen refuses to answer him. Instead, she responds defiantly by singing  La,la,la,la.


Tralalalala, cut me in pieces, burn me up,

I won’t say a thing.

Tralalalalala, I defy everything,

Fire, steel, and heaven itself!


Spare us your song,

And since you were told to answer, answer


(staring at Zuniga)

I keep my secret I keep.

And I keep it well.

Tralalalalala, I love another,

And I will die saying that I love him.


Since you take this tone

You’ll sing your song in the prison walls.

All the women

To prison! To prison!


Well! You certainly are ready with your hands.




It’s too bead, it’s too bad

For she is really nice.

But she has to be shown how to behave.

Tie her pretty arms

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Lieutenant Zuniga, responding to her defiance, sentences her to prison and leaves her with Jose. Carmen, cajoles  Don Jose with promises of a rendezvous at the tavern of Lilas Pasita if Jose loosens her bonds. Jose loosens her bonds. Zuniga reappears with confirmation of his sentence  and places Carmen between two soldiers under Jose’s command. As they depart, Carmen frees herself from her bonds, gives Jose a prearranged shove and escapes through the cheering crowd of cigarette girls.

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