Summer sizzles with opera.



9 pmJune 29-July 288:30 pmJuly 30-Aug 198 pm Aug. 20-Aug. 25$25-$170

It's been a long, long time, but the Santa Fe Opera finally decided to bring poor Mimi in from the cold. She's Puccini's consumptive heroine, of course, and after 14 years of exile from the SFO stage

La bohème

gets a pardon on opening night, June 29. The company's director, Richard Gaddes, commented on the prolonged absence, "Frankly, when I became general director we'd had a glut of






, so I very deliberately steered away from that repertory. This season we thought to open with a blockbuster, partly because most of the rest of the offerings tend toward the off-beat."

In the meantime, plenty of versions of Puccini's sudsy opus have scored major hits, ranging from off-Broadway's rocky


to Baz Luhrmann's on-Broadway crowd pleaser (a Tony nominee for best revival of, yes, a musical). A duo of solid SFO veterans will be taking charge of this summer's


: Corrado Rovaris conducts, following up on his fine

Simon Boccanegra

debut three seasons ago and Paul Curran directs, returning after that shattering

Peter Grimes

of 2005.

As something of an innovation, the opera will be done in two acts instead of four, but audiences won't be faced with a Eurotrash fantasy in blackface. Gaddes reports that the show will be "decidedly not unconventional." The first cast features the Mimi of Jennifer Black, back after her Micaela last season, and the SFO debut of Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as Rodolfo, whose emotional collapse at the opera's finish generally fetches out most of the hankies in the house.

But forget about tears when the season's next offering, Mozart's

Così fan tutte

, opens on June 30. This, the third of the great Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations, is a witty, ice-cold comedy of cruelty, sugar-coated with luxuriant arias and ensembles, vibrant with instrumental invention. If it's a "school for lovers" as the subtitle proposes, the lovers' lessons are mighty harsh.

Still, on the lighter side, the four lovers are admittedly young and foolish, and SFO's cast stresses their youthfulness. Norman Reinhardt, Katherine Goeldner, Mark Stone and Susanna Phillips all make their company debuts. SFO veterans Susanne Mentzner and Dale Travis play their worldly instructors.  William Lacey conducts the season's only revival, a return of the stylish 2003 production.

There's another significant return scheduled to open July 14, this time one of those off-beat items that Gaddes mentioned:  Richard Strauss' lush, late, lyrical one-act,


. Company founder and Strauss maven John Crosby gave that little-known and less-regarded piece its first American staging here in 1964. Since then, the opera has made its way into most of the major houses and, while still a rarity, has come to be recognized as perhaps the composer's most magical score.

It's also a tough one to cast. The title role, demanding a light, lyric soprano who can produce a big dramatic sound, will be taken by Erin Wall. Her would-be lover, Apollo, a heroic tenor obliged to sing, arguably, Strauss' most challenging passages for that hard-to-find voice, will be Scott MacAllister. Mark Lamos directs, Kenneth Montgomery conducts this "bucolic tragedy," whose wordless final transformation of woman into laurel tree ranks among the most haunting, unearthly music ever written for the stage.

This season's premiere comes from Tan Dun, the hot, youngish Chinese composer whose operas,

Marco Polo, The Peony Pavilion


The Last Emperor

, have caused a stir recently, and whose film score to

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

is widely known. Tan Dun's

Tea: A Mirror of Soul

, commissioned for Tokyo's Suntory Hall in 2002, receives its first American outing on July 21 in a production that the composer reportedly is very, very happy with and that Gaddes pronounces as "simply gorgeous." In bare outline, the plot recounts a bitter, doomed love story: that of a Japanese monk, Seikyo, for a Chinese princess, Lan. The action includes a shadow-puppet opera-within-an-opera, Japanese


Chinese tea ceremonies, a ritualistic quest for the mysterious Book of Tea and conclusive, tragic combat. Above all, it's an intense exploration of the meaning of tea as symbol of life, death, love and art.

That's a pretty tall order. But Tan Dun's text asks us "to see the sound, to hear the color." He offers sonic representations of water and fire, of paper, of ceramic and stone in an exotic allegory that evokes the fragrance and bitterness of tea, a journey that leads to, finally, the empty tea bowl and the ensuing wisdom of emptiness. Haijing Fu, who created the role in Tokyo, sings Seikyo, Lawrence Renes conducts and the director is Amon Miyamoto.

And then on July 28 it's time for dessert. Or for one of those weird and wonderful sweety bites called


that flossy French restaurants present as a little surprise around dessert time. As its final entry for the '07 season, SFO presents another mock comedy, Rameau's 1745 "

ballet bouffon

," detailing an elderly, ugly, amorous frog's pursuit of marriage with the great god Jupiter. That's


, a spectacular mingling of song, dance and silliness that convulsed the court of the Sun King and continues to stimulate comic paroxysms today.

Think Aesop plus Monty Python plus brazen high-baroque attitudinizing, add the charm of Rameau's fluid melodies, set the action in a dismal swamp, and hand the project over to stage director Laurent Pelly, whose outrageous sense of parody has astonished SFO's audiences twice before. Harry Bicket, a paragon of Baroque style, handles the music and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, renowned for his portrayal, sings the title frog. Yes, opera fans, she's a man with a very high tenor voice.

Santa Fe Opera

Hwy, 84/285,

Seven miles north of Santa Fe, 986-5900

This just in

: For the many hundreds unable to score tickets to La bohème, circle Saturday, Aug. 11, on your calendars. That night the SFO presents a live simulcast of Puccini's weeper at Fort Marcy Ballpark, just as it had done for La sonnambula a couple of years ago, but with greatly enhanced big-screen audio-visuals. Bring picnics, bring the kids, and don't forget the pocket handkerchiefs.