The name of the town is Seville, Spain - home to the characters of so many great operas and just around the corner from North Africa - latitude 37 degrees 22 minutes North, longitude 5 degrees, 59 minutes West - a hundred-twenty-five miles due North from the Strait of Gibraltar and the hottest, most tropical area in all Europe. Excepting the characters in this opera and half-a-dozen others, nothing of note ever happened in this town. Sure, it’s the historic Andalusian capital where Catholics used to rub up against Muslims and Jews until Mad Queen Isabella put an end to all that. But other than its heat and some nice buildings, nothing to remarkable ever happened here. Cervantes left this town when he decided to write Don Quixote. Diego Velasquez was born here, but he got out by the time he was a teenager and never returned.
But we're technically not in Seville, we're in a castle right outside the town called Aguasfrescas. For those of you who don't speak Spanish, Aguasfrescas is Spanish for... Watersfrescas... It’s a nice castle, know what I mean? Nobody too special or extraordinary ever lived in it. Christopher Columbus once flogged a Native American right over there (point to someone in the front row), and General Franco;s minions once hosted a secret meeting here with a high-ranking Nazi who’s last name, believe it or not, was Barbie.
This castle has the reputation of being a happy place. And that reputation is entirely earned. What happens in this place, what’s happened for 228 years, is pure happiness. Happy not because everybody in it is happy, but quite the opposite. This place is happy because its happiness is earned by so much suffering.
We’ve thus far experienced little in this place but farce and high spirits, but this castle is as full of darkness and agony and horror as it is full of joy. And of all the people we meet on this journey through Aguasfrescas, no one has more happiness to earn than the Countess. No one suffers more, no one has more occasion to grieve, no one in this castle has more knowledge of the horrors which make our happiness so necessary.
Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she so sad?
(Pianist plays Larghetto from Piano Concerto no. 27)
All we know about her is that like so many women of her time, ...of all time, she is a prisoner. She was born a prisoner, and she may yet die one. For her entire childhood, she was the ward of the self-aggrandizing Doctor Bartolo whom we recently met. And as so many legal guardians of a certain era, Bartolo raised his ward with the singular intention of creating a wife for himself, and shut her off from the world so that she would not be tempted by more fitting suitors, and the more worthy men would be completely unaware of the prize which dwelled among them.
Such a situation is horror enough in itself for any girl, and who knows to what other horrors the good Doctor might have subjected her? But not even Bartolo could hide such a treasure from the Earth. And into her iron-barred world swept the Count - young, handsome, exciting, adventurous, and disguised as a soldier so she might fall in love with him and not with his money. Three years ago, the Count enlisted Figaro to help him foil Bartolo and win the the love of this mysterious enchantress. From that scheme came the work of opera you know as The Barber of Seville.
But the Count has become a very different man in the elapsing time, and because he has, so has everybody else. What happened in the last three years? Did the Count begin his marriage a good husband in good faith? Did the Countess become engorged on her newfound freedom and lose the Count’s love with too many demands? Did the Countess have a child? Did the Countess lose a child? All we know of this woman who beguiles three generations of men in this opera is that she was a prisoner her whole life, only to be liberated by the perfect man, and then discover her liberator to be yet another jailer, perhaps still more horrific than her first.