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 attended my first live opera performance in 1978, after having listened in to the Metropolitan Opera's live radio performances for many years prior. The opera was La Boheme at DMMO and I immediately fell in love with this opera company in the heart of Iowa. I attended many more performances and then in 1991 was overjoyed to be asked to join the Board. I was in my early 30s and had little knowledge of how opera is produced, but Dr. Larsen was so generous with his time (as was Jeri Mace) in teaching me the rudiments (I'm afraid that...
– Sheila Tipton
Read more
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to work both under Dr. Larsen's baton, and as a colleague briefly at Simpson College. My favorite memory of him happened during a student production of La Rondine. Right before the famous ending of Act II, there is a lovely off-stage soprano accompanied by a recurring 6-note phrase from 1st bassoon. When I say recurring, I mean recurring, the same phrase, same rests, take up a page of music, with a slight change at the end of the moment. There I was, playing along, feeling good, as bassoonists are wont to do,...
– Janean Schaefer Denhart
Read more
I began subscribing for tickets to DMMO so long ago. The three days of opera every year were so exciting. I enjoyed the west side of the seating so that I could watch my dear friend, Robert conduct. He was a master at conducting; it was obvious every musician Robert hired loved his very clear style. I have sung with several conductors in Minneapolis, and watching Dr. Robert Larsen is at the top of the list. I remember one time when the opera was over, we would be invited to another building for a concert, sometimes the opera orchestra, but...
– Madalyn Staupe Traun
Read more
For 7 different opera seasons I worked at DMMO as a coach/accompanist. My first season, just before the “Night of a Thousand Stars,” when I realized that Dr. Larsen would accompany everybody, I turned and asked Buck Ross if he really was going to play all those pieces. Buck answered “Oh, he doesn’t have any trouble -“ He was right. Dr. Larsen played beautifully. In fact during subsequent seasons I discovered, the guy could play anything and everything - plus he was a reasonable, good natured person. I admired him and was glad to work for him. I mourn his...
– John McCauley
Read more