1: A square in Seville. On the right a
cigarette factory, on the left a guard house, with a bridge at the back.
and the soldiers loiter before the guard house commenting on passers-by
("Sur la place, chacun passe"). Micaëla appears seeking Don José,
a corporal, but is told by Moralès that he is not yet on duty, so why
does she not stay and wait with them? She runs away saying that she will
return later. Zuniga and José arrive with the new guard, imitated by a
crowd of street-children ("Avec la garde montante").
factory bell rings and the cigarette girls emerge from the factory,
greeted by young men who have gathered to flirt with them ("La cloche
a sonné"). The girls enter smoking cigarettes, and finally Carmen
appears, and all the men ask her when she will love them ("Quand je
vous aimerai?"). She replies in the famous Habanera ("L'amour
est un oiseau rebelle"): "Love is a rebellious bird that no one
can tame ... He has never known law. If you don't love me I love you, if I
love you watch yourself!" When they plead for her to choose a lover
from among them, ("Carmen! sur tes pas, nous nous pressons tous!")
she tears a bunch of cassia from her bodice and throws it at Don José,
who has been ignoring her, before going back into the factory with the
others. José is annoyed by her insolence.
returns and gives him a letter —and a kiss— from his mother ("Parle-moi
de ma mère!"). José longingly thinks of his home, and reading the
letter sees that his mother wants him to return and get married. Micaëla
is embarrassed and leaves, but Don José declares that he will marry her.
soon as she leaves, screams are heard from the factory and the women run
out, singing chaotically ("Au secours! Au secours!"). Don José
and Zuniga find that Carmen has been fighting with another woman, and
slashed her face with a knife. Zuniga asks Carmen if she has anything to
say, but she replies impudently with a song ("Tra la la").
Zuniga instructs José to guard her while he writes out the warrant for
prison. The women go back into the factory and the soldiers to the
guardhouse. To escape, Carmen seduces José with a seguidilla ("Près
des remparts de Séville") about an evening date with her next lover
who is "only a corporal"; José relents and unties her hands.
Zuniga returns, and Carmen allows herself to be led away but turns, pushes
José to the ground, and laughing cigarette girls surround Zuniga as she
2: Evening at Lillas Pastia's inn,
tables scattered around; officers and Gypsies relaxing after dinner
month has passed. Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès sing and
dance ("Les tringles des sistres tintaient"). Lillas Pastia is
trying to get rid of the officers, so Zuniga invites Carmen and her
friends to come with him to the theatre, but she can only think of José,
who was demoted and has been in jail since letting her escape, and was
released the day before.
sound of a procession hailing Escamillo passes by outside, and the
toreador is invited in ("Vivat, vivat le Toréro"). Escamillo
sings the Toreador song ("Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre"),
and flirts with Carmen, but Carmen tells him that for the time being he
need not dream of being hers.
everyone except Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès have left, the smugglers
Dancaïre and Remendado arrive and tell the girls of their plans to
dispose of the contraband they have smuggled via Gibraltar (Quintet:
"Nous avons en tête une affaire"). Carmen refuses to accompany
them, saying to their amazement that she is in love.
José's voice is heard ("Halte là!"), Dancaïre tells Carmen
she must try to get Don José to join them. Alone together, José returns
a gold coin Carmen had sent him in jail and she orders fruit and wine to
vexes him with stories of her dancing for the officers but then dances
with castanets for him alone ("Je vais danser en votre honneur ...
Lalala"). During her song the sound of bugles is heard calling the
soldiers back to barracks.
temper flares when José says he must leave, but he makes her listen by
producing the flower she threw at him, which he kept while he was in
prison and is proof of his love (the "Flower Song"—"La
fleur que tu m'avais jetée"). Carmen is unmoved and asks him to join
her gypsy life if he really loves her ("Non, tu ne m'aimes
picture of a life of freedom tempts him but he finally refuses saying he
will never be a deserter. He begins to leave when Zuniga enters hoping to
find Carmen. Don José draws his sword on his superior officer, but before
they can fight the smugglers burst in and disarm both of them. Zuniga is
made a prisoner ("Bel officier") and José has no alternative
but to flee with Carmen ("Suis-nous à travers la campagne").
3: A wild and deserted rocky place at
smugglers along with Carmen and José are travelling with the contraband
("Écoute, écoute, compagnons"), but Carmen has grown tired of
José, and does not conceal this, taunting him to return to his village.
Frasquita and Mercédès read the cards ("Mêlons! Coupons!"):
Frasquita and Mercédès foresee love and romance, wealth and luxury; but
Carmen's cards foretell death for both her and José ("En vain pour
éviter les réponses amères"). The smugglers ask the girls to come
and charm the customs officers ("Quant au douanier, c'est notre
affaire") and everyone goes off, leaving the jealous José to guard
arrives with a guide seeking José. She sends the guide away and vows to
take Don José away from Carmen ("Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante").
She sees José firing a gun, and hides in the rocks. It was Escamillo whom
José had fired at, but when he arrives José welcomes him, until he says
he is infatuated with Carmen and tells José the story of her affair with
a soldier, not realising José is that soldier.
challenges Escamillo to a knife-fight, but Escamillo fights defensively,
infuriating José. They start again and José finds himself at the mercy
of Escamillo who releases him, saying his trade is killing bulls, not men.
The third time they fight Escamillo's knife breaks, but he is saved by the
return of the smugglers and Carmen ("Holà, holà José").
Escamillo leaves, but invites Carmen and the smugglers to his next
bullfight in Seville.
finds Micaëla hiding, and she tells José that his mother wishes to see
him. Carmen mocks him and at first he refuses to go ("Non, je ne
partirai pas!"), until Micaëla tells him that his mother is dying.
Vowing that he will return to Carmen, he goes.
he is leaving, Escamillo is heard singing in the distance. Carmen rushes
to the sound of his voice, but José bars her way.
4: A square in front of the arena at
Seville: the day of a bull-fight; bustling activity
is the day of the contest to which Escamillo invited the smugglers. The
square is full of people, with merchants and Gypsies selling their wares
("À deux cuartos!"). Zuniga, Frasquita and Mercédès are among
the crowd and the girls tell Zuniga that Carmen is now with Escamillo.
crowd and children sing and cheer on the procession as the cuadrilla
arrive ("Les voici! voici la quadrille"). Carmen and Escamillo
are greeted by the crowds and express their love, Carmen adding that she
had never loved one so much ("Si tu m'aimes, Carmen").
Escamillo has gone into the fight, Frasquita warns Carmen that José is in
the crowd ("Carmen! Prends garde!"), but Carmen scorns their
fears. Before she can enter the arena she is confronted by the desperate
José ("C'est toi? C'est moi!").
begs her to return his love and start a new life with him far away. She
calmly replies that she loves him no longer and will not give way—free
she was born and free she will die.
are heard from the bull-ring and Carmen tries to enter, but José bars her
way. He asks her one last time to come back, but she scornfully throws
back the ring that he gave to her ("Cette bague, autrefois").
stabs her ("Eh bien, damnée") as Escamillo is acclaimed in the
arena, to the strains of the chorus of the 'Toreador Song', she dies. Don
José kneels in despair beside her. The spectators flock out of the arena
and find José ("Ah! Carmen! ma Carmen adorée!"), confessing
his guilt over her dead body.
The courtyard of an inn at Amiens
De Brétigny, a nobleman, has just arrived, in the company of Guillot, an aging rake who is the Minister of Finance, along with three flirtatious young actresses. While the innkeeper is serving dinner to the party, the townspeople collect to witness the arrival of the coach from Arras. Among them is
Lescaut, a Guardsman, who tells his comrades that he plans to meet a kinswoman. The coach appears, and among the crowd Lescaut quickly identifies his fragile young cousin,
Manon, who appears to be somewhat confused
(Je suis encore tout étourdie) since this is her first journey, one which is taking her to the convent.
Manon is accosted by the opportunistic Guillot, who tells her he has a carriage waiting, in which they can leave together. His heavy-handed seduction is undermined by the return of
Lescaut, who then lectures the young woman
(Regardez-moi bien dans les yeux) on proper behavior. He leaves her unattended once more and she admires the fashionably dressed three actresses, but reproaches herself
(Voyons, Manon), unconvincingly vowing to rid herself of all worldly visions.
Des Grieux, traveling home to see his father, catches sight of Manon, and instantly falls in love. When he approaches, she is charmed by his chivalrous address
(Et je sais votre nom), and their exchange rapidly becomes a mutual avowal of love. Both their planned journeys, hers to the convent and des Grieux's to his home, are swiftly abandoned, as they decide to flee together
(Nous vivrons à Paris). But there are hints of incompatible aspirations: while he returns, over and again, to
"tous les deux" (together), the phrase she repeatedly fondles is
"à Paris". Making good use of the carriage provided by the disappointed
Guillot, the lovers escape.
Manon and des Grieux's apartment in Paris
With little hope, des Grieux writes to his father, imploring permission to marry Manon. Lescaut enters intent on creating a scene and accompanied by de Brétigny, who is masquerading as a fellow-Guardsman. But his concern for offended family honor is only camouflage for his alliance with his friend. Trying to prove his honorable intentions, des Grieux shows Lescaut the letter to his father. Meanwhile, de Brétigny warns Manon that des Grieux is going to be abducted that evening, on the orders of his father, and offers her his protection and wealth, trying to persuade her to move on to a better future.
After the two visitors depart, Manon appears to vacillate between accepting de Brétigny's offer and warning des Grieux. When her lover goes out to post his letter, her farewell to the humble domesticity she has shared
(Adieu, notre petite table) makes clear she has decided to go with de Brétigny. Unaware of her change of heart, des Grieux returns and conveys his more modest vision of their future happiness
(En fermant les yeux, the once-famous 'Dream Song'). Going outside to investigate an apparent disturbance, he is seized and hustled away, leaving Manon to voice her regrets.
Scene 1: Paris, the promenade of the Cours-la-Reine on a feast-day.
Among the throng of holiday-makers and vendors of all kinds are Lescaut and Guillot, the latter still flirting with the young actresses, while Lescaut expresses the joys of gambling
(À quoi bon l'économie?). De Brétigny arrives, soon joined by Manon, now sumptuously dressed and with a retinue of admirers. She sings about her new situation
(Je marche sur tous les chemins), following it with a gavotte (Obéissons quand leur voix appelle) on the joys of love and youth.
Des Grieux's father, the comte, greets de Brétigny and Manon overhears that her former lover is
Chevalier no longer, but Abbé, having entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. Approaching the comte, Manon tries to discover whether his son still loves her. Guillot then attempts to win Manon over by bringing the ballet dancers of the Académie Royale de Musique, which she had expressed a desire to see. However Manon is seized by the desire to see des Grieux once more, and admits, when asked, that she paid no attention to the dancers, to Guillot's annoyance. She hurries off to Saint-Sulpice.
Scene 2: Saint-Sulpice
From the chapel, the congregation is leaving, enthusiastic over the sermon of the new abbé
(Quelle éloquence!). Des Grieux enters, in clerical garb, and his father adds his voice to the chorus of praise, but tries to dissuade his son from this new life, so that he can perpetuate the family name
(Epouse quelque brave fille).
He leaves, having failed to shake his son's resolve and des Grieux, alone, relives memories of Manon
(Ah! Fuyez, douce image). As he prays, Manon herself appears, to implore his forgiveness for her faithlessness. Furiously, he attempts to reject her, but when (in
N'est-ce plus ma main?) she recalls their past intimacies, his resistance is overcome, and their voices join in an impassioned avowal of love.
A gaming salon at the Hôtel de Transylvanie
Lescaut and Guillot are among the gamblers, and the three young actresses are prepared to attach themselves to any winner. Manon arrives with des Grieux who declares his total love:
(Manon! Manon! Sphinx étonnant). He is persuaded to gamble, in hopes of gaining the wealth she craves. He plays at cards with Guillot and continually winning as Guillot doubles and redoubles the wager. As Manon exults, Guillot accuses des Grieux of cheating. Des Grieux denies the charge and Guillot leaves, returning shortly with the police, to whom he denounces des Grieux as a cheat and Manon as dissolute.
The elder des Grieux enters, and tells his son that, while he will intercede in his behalf, he will do nothing to save Manon. In a big ensemble, with Guillot exulting over his revenge, Manon lamenting the end of all joy, des Grieux swearing to defend her, and the rest expressing consternation and horror, the arrested pair is led away.
[Act 4, Scene 2 in the original version]
A desolate spot near the road to Le Havre
Convicted as a woman of ill-fame, Manon has been condemned to be deported. Des
Grieux, freed by his father's intervention, and a penitent Lescaut, now his ally, wait to waylay the convoy in which Manon is being marched to the port. A detachment of soldiers arrives with their prisoners. The would-be rescuers recognize the hopelessness of attacking so strong an escort, but Lescaut succeeds in bribing their sergeant to allow Manon to stay behind till evening. The convoy moves on, and a sick and exhausted Manon falls to the ground at des Grieux's feet.
In his arms, near delirium, she relives their former happiness. Des Grieux tells her the past can exist again but
Manon, now calm, knows that it is too late. With the words
Et c'est là l'histoire de Manon Lescaut she dies.
A tavern in Nuremberg. The Muse appears and reveals to the audience that her purpose is to draw Hoffmann's attention to herself, and to make him abjure all other loves, so he can be devoted fully to her:
poetry. She takes the appearance of Hoffmann's closest friend, Nicklausse. The prima donna Stella, currently performing Mozart's Don Giovanni sends a letter to Hoffmann, requesting a meeting in her dressing room after the performance. The letter, and the key to the room, are intercepted by Councillor Lindorf
(Dans les rôles d'amoureux langoureux), who is the first of the opera's incarnations of evil, Hoffmann's nemesis. Lindorf intends to replace Hoffmann at the rendezvous. In the tavern students are waiting for Hoffmann. He finally arrives and entertains them with the legend of Zaches the dwarf
(Il était une fois à la cour d'Eisenach), and is coaxed by Lindorf into telling the audience about his life's three great loves.
Act 1 (Olympia)
Hoffmann's first love is Olympia, an automaton created by the scientist Spalanzani. Hoffmann falls in love with her, not knowing that Olympia is a mechanical doll
(Allons! Courage et confiance...Ah! vivre deux!). Nicklausse, who knows the truth about Olympia, sings a story of a mechanical doll that looked like a human to warn Hoffmann, but is ignored by him
(Une poupée aux yeux d'émail). Coppélius, Olympia's co-creator and this act's incarnation of Nemesis, sells Hoffmann magic glasses which make Olympia appear as a real woman
(J'ai des yeux).
Olympia sings one of the opera's most famous arias, Les oiseaux dans la charmille ("The Doll Song"), in which she periodically runs down and needs to be wound up before she can continue. Hoffmann is tricked into believing that his affections are returned, to the bemusement of Nicklausse, who subtly tries to warn his friend
(Voyez-la sous son éventail). While dancing with Olympia, Hoffmann falls on the ground and his glasses break. At the same time, Coppélius appears and tears Olympia apart, in retaliation for having been tricked out of his fees by Spalanzani. With the crowd laughing at him, Hoffmann realizes that he was in love with an automaton.
This act is based on a portion of "Der Sandmann" (The Sandman).
Act 2 (Antonia)
After a long search, Hoffmann finds the house where Crespel and his daughter Antonia are hiding. Hoffmann and Antonia loved each other, but were separated when Crespel decided to hide his daughter from Hoffmann. Antonia has inherited her mother's talent for singing, but her father forbids her to sing because of the mysterious illness from which she is suffering. Antonia wishes that her lover would return to her
(Elle a fui, la tourterelle). Her father also forbids her to see Hoffmann, who is encouraging Antonia in her musical career, and is therefore a danger to her without knowing it. Crespel tells Frantz, his servant, to stay with his daughter and when he leaves, Frantz sings
"Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre".
When Crespel leaves his house, Hoffmann takes advantage of the occasion to sneak in, and the lovers are reunited (love
duet:C'est une chanson d'amour). When Crespel comes back, he receives the visit of Dr Miracle, the act's Nemesis, who forces Crespel to let him heal Antonia. Still in the house, Hoffmann listens to the conversation and learns that Antonia may die if she sings too much. He returns to her room to make her promise to give up her artistic dreams. Antonia reluctantly accepts her lover's will. Once she is alone, Dr Miracle enters Antonia's room and tries to persuade her to sing and follow her mother's path to glory, stating that Hoffmann is sacrificing her to his brutishness and loves her only for her beauty. With mystic powers, he raises a vision of Antonia's dead mother and induces Antonia to sing, causing her death. Crespel arrives just in time to witness his daughter's last breath. Hoffmann enters the room and Crespel wants to kill him, thinking that he is responsible for his daughter's death. Nicklausse saves his friend from the old man's vengeance.
This act is based on "Rath Krespel".
Act 3 (Giulietta)
Venice. The act opens with the barcarolle
Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour. Hoffmann falls in love with the courtesan Giulietta and thinks his affections are returned
(Amis, l'amour tendre et rêveur). Giulietta is not in love with Hoffmann but only seducing him under the orders of Captain Dapertutto, who has promised to give her a diamond if she filches Hoffmann's reflection from a mirror
(Scintille, diamant). The jealous Schlemil (cf. Peter Schlemiel for a literary antecedent), a previous victim of Giulietta and Dapertutto (he gave Giulietta his shadow), challenges the poet to a duel, but is killed. Nicklausse wants to take Hoffmann away from Venice and goes looking for horses. Meanwhile, Hoffmann meets Giulietta and cannot resist her
(O Dieu! de quelle ivresse): he gives her his reflection, only to be abandoned by the courtesan, to Dapertutto's great pleasure. Hoffmann tells Dapertutto that his friend Nicklausse will come and save him. Dapertutto prepares a poison to get rid of Nicklausse, but Giulietta drinks it by mistake and drops dead in the arms of the poet.
This act is very loosely based on Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht (A New Year's Eve Adventure).
Epilogue[edit source | editbeta]The tavern in Nuremberg. Hoffmann, drunk, swears he will never love again, and explains that Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta are three facets of a same person, Stella. They represent, respectively, the young girl's, the musician's, and the courtesan's side of the prima donna. When Hoffmann says he doesn't want to love any more, Nicklausse reveals himself as the Muse and reclaims Hoffmann: "Be reborn a poet! I love you, Hoffmann! Be mine!" The magic of poetry reaches Hoffmann as he sings
O Dieu! de quelle ivresse once more, ending with "Muse whom I love, I am yours!" At this moment, Stella, who is tired of waiting for Hoffmann to come to her rendezvous, enters the tavern and finds him drunk. The poet tells her to leave ("Farewell, I will not follow you, phantom, spectre of the past"), and Lindorf, who was waiting in the shadows, comes forth. Nicklausse explains to Stella that Hoffmann does not love her any more, but that Councillor Lindorf is waiting for her. Some students enter the room for more drinking, while Stella and Lindorf leave together.