Javier Abreu is primed no, pumped to play Lindoro, the erstwhile lover in Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers," at the Long Center through Feb. 6 in a production by the Austin Lyric Opera.

Never mind that the energetic 33-year-old Miami-based tenor has performed the role 25 times already in productions in Switzerland (Theater Basel) and Chile (Teatro Municipal de Santiago). And never mind that he'll do the role again soon in Spain.

Abreu has made Rossini something of a career speciality, delighting in the zany romances and the ornate, yet melodic scores. And then, there's the madcap comedy and over-the-top plots: "The plots are so ridiculous, how can you not love them?" he says with a bright, clear-toned laugh. "And besides, I'm very animated."

"The tenor (in Rossini opera's) tends to be the comic foil — the straight man to a comic role," he says, taking a break recently at the Austin Lyric Opera headquarters. "It's like being Desi Arnaz to Lucille Ball."

Set up the moment, then let the joke erupt: That's what Abreu must do as Lindoro.

Playing the romantic lead in an opera wasn't what he thought he would be doing when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. By the time Abreu was finishing high school, he was a burgeoning pop singer with managers and record companies dangling offers in front of him. But his parents — both accountants — pooh-poohed a career in show business, and so the dutiful son went to the University of Miami, pursuing pre-law studies.

And then he saw his first opera. And never looked back.

"I fell in love with the marriage of singing and acting," Abreu says. "Opera spoke to me on an intellectual and emotional level. I had never found anything that had engrossed me so fully."

Abreu spent two years in the Lone Star State while getting a master's degree at the University of Houston Moores School of Music, studying with Joseph Evans. And even though Abreu had to have his tonsils removed thanks to chronic Texas allergies, he loves being back here.

"I drove here from Miami because I love road trips," he says. "And my allergies are fine now, too. And I travel with all kinds of remedies anyway."

After Houston, Abreu spent two years with the Pittsburgh Opera Center's young artists program and then studied at the Juilliard Opera Center.

His Rossini leading-man roles include singing Ramiro in "La Cenerentola" for Wolf Trap Opera and Count Libenskof in "Il viaggio a Reims" for New York City Opera.

The current production of "The Italian Girl in Algiers" finds Rossini's love story updated to the early 1900s, with Isabella — the "Italian Girl" of the title — arriving in Algiers not by shipwreck as originally written but when her biplane crashes. Designed by Robert Innes Hopkins originally for Santa Fe Opera, the production evokes a giant pop-up book that opens and closes to set different scenes. And when Isabella and Lindoro leave, they depart in a hot-air balloon.

"I'm not really crazy about heights," Abreu admits about his stage-exiting strategy. "And yeah, the balloon does fly up a bit."

Abreu has some real flying to do as it is — on to two more stints as Lindoro, no less.

"Right now I'm riding the wave," he says of his career. "And it's just fun to see where it's going."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'The Italian Girl in Algiers'

When:7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Where:Dell Hall, Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive

Tickets:$20-$200

Information:472-5992. www.austinlyric opera.org.