In Remembrance

With heavy hearts, Des Moines Metro Opera shares the loss of our beloved Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus, Robert L. Larsen. He passed away peacefully in Indianola on Sunday, March 21, 2021. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and former students at this time of immense sorrow.

Visionary conductor and stage director Robert Larsen was born in Walnut, Iowa, in 1934. Against the backdrop of that rural Iowa community, he developed an unlikely interest in opera. Early in his career, he declined an offer from the Metropolitan Opera in order to remain in his home state to share his love for music and theatre with his fellow Iowans. Dr. Larsen believed that quality performances of great music should not exist exclusively in America’s largest cities, but could belong to everyone. With that in mind, in March of 1973 and with little time to spare, he selected opera titles, hired singers, formed a board of directors and raised $22,000 to launch Des Moines Metro Opera just a few months later on June 22, 1973. That first season, professional singers worked alongside his students to create something out of nothing via sheer determination and loyalty to their beloved leader.  Larsen served as Conductor and Stage Director for every one of the nearly 120 productions for the Company’s first 38 seasons – an unparalleled accomplishment in American music. He worked and collaborated with more than a thousand singers, orchestra musicians, designers, technicians, and he motivated colleagues to reach the peak of their own capabilities. Today as the company he founded approaches its 50th Anniversary Season, he remained immensely proud of its next generation and the Company's continued success following his retirement in 2009.

His love of Iowa and great music was boundless. Nothing delighted him more than great singing and marvelous young voices. His passion for music-making inspired all those who had the opportunity to work alongside him including artists, colleagues, students and members of the community. He instilled in them the same awe and wonder that surrounded his earliest memories of music and the joys of his life. The strength of his vision to bring quality opera performances to Iowa brought thousands of people to this magnificent art form, forever changing the lives of so many. He will live on in our hearts forever.

Memorial Services
Visitations will be held on Friday, March 26, from 3-8pm at the Overton Funeral Home in Indianola and on Saturday, March 27, from 9:00-10:30am at the First Presbyterian Church in Walnut, IA. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no public graveside service is planned. When it is safe to do so, Des Moines Metro Opera will host a Memorial Concert to celebrate this extraordinary life. Further details will be available at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Robert L. Larsen Scenic Fund at the Des Moines Metro Opera Foundation, which provides annual funding to support the design and construction of new scenery and original productions each season.

In 2003, my friend and colleague at UT Austin, David Small, introduced me to Robert. I had recently moved back to the U.S. after a decade in opera in Germany. A few months later, Dr. Larsen personally called to offer me a job on music staff with the summer festival; and, two years later, the co-directorship of the AAP, where I worked closely with then Artistic Administrator Michael Egel. Part of my family was from Iowa, and each May felt like a homecoming. I have been forever grateful to Robert for bringing me into the fold of a great organization...
– David Neely
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I was an announcer and producer of classical-music programming at Iowa State's WOI Radio for 32 years. My boss, Doug Brown--a great admirer of Dr. Larsen and his work--suggested I put together a preview of that year's DMMO season. I had never met Dr. Larsen, and I was a little hesitant to make the call, but I finally did it. Dr. Larsen jumped at the chance, and we did about an hour and a half in one long take--conversation and music, Dr. Larsen at the piano, and a colleague of mine, with just silent cues and glances from me, adding...
– Karen Bryan
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It was my great honor and privilege to join your company Robert. ELEKTRA brought us together! There you were - from the first rehearsal - always encouraging, always smiling. What a wonderful and important company you formed. I thank you. Your audiences thank you. All your singers and musicians and technical personnel, your administration and your supporters - we are taking a deep bow to you Robert. Rest in Peace.
– Joyce Castle
My father, L. Donald Easter, attended the first organizational meeting for Des Moines Metro Opera at the home of Dr. Lawrence Ely. They both caught the contagious enthusiasm for the vision presented by Dr. Robert Larsen. My dad loved supporting and serving on the board of DMMO year after year. My parents attended every one of the operas Dr. Larsen directed-and I had my first date with the young man who became my husband, ushering for the opera in 1975. Over the years we-ve enjoyed chatting with Dr. Larsen in the lobby, an unmistakable presence. What a legacy he built!...
– Jane Bahls
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