Before "Gato," he directed Domingo in Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" in Madrid, finding the tenor "a big pleasure to work with because he always listens to you, and is very eager to do all the things you want on the stage."
To Sagi, the greatest difficulties in staging "El Gato Montes" involve conveying the atmosphere of Andalusia and also "finding a balance between the real and the non-real," specifically the naturalism of the early scenes versus the stylization demanded later on. "You can't show the public in a naturalistic way all the things that Penella asks you (in the final scenes)," he said. "You must try to catch very strong images to be as powerful as the music."
Spanish-speaking opera enthusiasts will notice that the Andalusian atmosphere is expressed partly through language--the distinctive elisions and shifts in pronunciation of that region--along with what Domingo calls "the turns in the voice that come from the flamenco, and that reveal a Moorish influence." Like Sagi, he is concerned with the difference between the early scenes of the work and the ending. "I would have developed the last act a different way," he said. "I would have made it a little more important, a little longer. But in many zarzuelas, the first act is strong and then perhaps it grows weaker.
"Maybe maestro Penella didn't have enough for the ending and just cut it short. But I think there is enough there for the public to really understand the work and to appreciate the color of Spain and Andalusia in it, and the feeling of the bull ring."
For the final performance, on Jan. 29, Domingo is scheduled to be replaced by zarzuela specialist Antonio Ordonez. Originally, Domingo explained, he was due in Japan for yet another "Three Tenors" concert with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras at the end of the month. And even after that event was switched to Los Angeles in July, he felt it "a good policy" to engage a major artist as a cover here--and to give that artist a performance.
"It's not like we're doing 'Tosca,' or 'Carmen,' " he said, "where a tenor who knows the part can fly here in three hours to substitute for somebody who is sick. If I catch a cold, there are seven performances and, obviously, nobody knows the part."
The bottom line on Ordonez from Domingo, who serves as ongoing artistic consultant to the L.A. Opera and its occasional conductor as well as periodic star tenor: "He's a wonderful singer so I think the public will be very, very happy."