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.

I am so grateful to Dr. Larsen for taking a chance on me by hiring me for my first professional young artist program. I was first there for the year of transition when he was handing over the reins, so I truly owe both he and Michael Egel so much gratitude for starting my career. It was so clear how much respect everyone had for him, and how deserving he was of that respect. I will cherish my memories of him, especially my audition and first time meeting him. I finished singing my first aria and he looked up with...
– Rebecca Witty
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Anyone who knew Robert knew he was bigger than life when it came to Opera. He always had a twinkle in his eyes when he laughed. I had the incredible privilege of serving on the DSMO board with Robert and Doug. They were a great together and now I have the same privilege of working with Michael who Robert hand succeed himself. We were so blessed to have such talent developing and nurturing one of the finest small opera companies in the country. I am sure Robert is in heaven getting his angels in line for a new season...
– Kathleen Klepper Stahl
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Dr. Robert Larsen was one of the most influential people in my life. Like so many people who have posted a memory of Robert, he ensured I was financially able to attend Simpson College and instilled a lifelong love of singing and opera. Robert once told me no matter what I did in my life I would always be a singer. I was a classmate of Doug Duncan, Reid Stringer, Cherie Carl and April Kaskey at Simpson. I also had the great privilege to sing with Carol Stuart in La Rondine and The Prima Donna in the 1973 inaugural season...
– Cheryl Hinman
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I was always disarmed by Robert's openness and encouragement. He was among the first impresarios who believed in me, even when at times I did not. What he did for aspiring young artists was singular. Many others have followed his example since, but Robert was one of a kind - a class act. I will be forever grateful for his influence.
– Kenneth Shaw