Craig Smith After less than two years as chief conductor of the Santa Fe Opera, Edo de Waart is calling its quits, the opera company announced Friday.

The Dutch maestro, who made his American opera debut here in 1971 leading Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, cited a desire to spend more time with his young family, which required clearing his summer schedule. He leaves halfway through a four-year tenure.

De Waart, 67, lives in Middleton, Wis., with his wife and two young children.

"I have also found the Santa Fe altitude a more difficult adjustment, and that too was a factor," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Performers at the open-air summer opera sometimes have trouble adjusting to Santa Fe's high and dry conditions.

De Waart will remain as chief conductor and continue to work with the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra at least through the end of the 2009 season, according to opera officials.

However, Dutch conductor Lawrence Renes, who led Tan Dun's Tea: A Mirror of Soul here in 2007, replaces de Waart as conductor for the 2009 revival of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

De Waart will hold auditions in New York this winter to replace orchestra members who are leaving or retiring and visit Santa Fe next summer to evaluate the players' progress.

This is the second time in his career that de Waart has left SFO after achieving a major position. In the mid-1990s, company founder John Crosby named de Waart principal guest conductor with special responsibility for Mozart operas. The appointment quickly and quietly lapsed, presumably because of disagreements about repertoire and artistic control.

That never seemed to harm de Waart's relationship with the company much, though. Among the operas he has conducted here over the years are Shostakovich's The Nose, Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict, and this past summer, Britten's Billy Budd.

De Waart is currently the music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic and will become music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in 2009; he retains those positions.

The 2009 season runs from July 3 through Aug. 29. Besides Don Giovanni, it includes Verdi's La traviata, Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, Gluck's Alceste, and the world premiere of The Letter by Paul Moravec and Terry Teachout.

Renes led the European premiere of John Adams' Dr. Atomic at the Netherlands Opera in 2007, and in February he will conduct the work at the English National Opera.

He served as assistant to de Waart at the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic from 1994 to 1996.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Smith at 986-3038 or csmith@sfnewmexican.com.