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.

My husband and I moved to Osceola in 1994. Until then, I had no idea there was an opera company in Iowa, much less 30 miles up the road. Jay and I were long-time opera buffs, especially Jay, who had grown up in NJ and attended the old and new Met, way up in the top tier where he swore the acoustics were best. I told Jay we should get season tickets, and he sort of brushed me off, but I got them anyway and practically dragged him to "La Boheme" in the summer of 1995. He was brought to...
– Jean Rommes
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What a heartbreaking loss for the Iowa arts community! I have very fond memories of meeting Dr. Larsen shortly after our 2000 move to Des Moines from the East Coast. He was the courtliest of gentlemen...and the only one who ever kissed my hand in greeting! A vivid recollection is of running into him on the street near Lincoln Center (no one else wore a cape and fedora with such panache!) when he was auditioning performers for a new DMMO season. His legacy will endure in the hearts of every DMMO audience.
– Debra Salowitz
I had the honor and pleasure to be an apprentice at DMMO in 2006. It was a tremendous experience, with wonderful musicians, the homey atmosphere of Indianola, and Dr. Larsen’s incredible enthusiasm, energy and spirit. He was incomparable. Thank you, Dr. Larsen!
– Stan DeCwikiel
I owe my career to Robert. He proved time and again how it was possible to create miracles out of dreams and sheer will. I will be forever grateful to him and to the Des Moines Metro Opera for including me in the family for so many years. His legacy is far reaching and unique.
– Buck Ross