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 was a student at Simpson College in the final few years Dr. Larsen was teaching. I wasn't able to take any of his classes, but seeing him conduct the Madrigal Singers and his passion for history made me appreciate being in a department he helped establish. I also remember the Lekberg Christmas parties he had such joy in putting on; sitting in his home singing Christmas Carols. Dr. Larsen has left a great legacy for all students and musicians to learn from in the future.
– Jonathon Moldovan
I remember seeing Dr. Larsen wearing a three-stripe gown at Simpson commencement and exclaiming "Larsen got his doctorate!" For a number of years, until he was no longer able to emcee it, the highlight of my summer was to visit with Dr. Larsen after the apprentice artists program in Des Moines; and Michael knows I asked him about Dr. Larsen whenever we saw each other.
– Bruce Wilson
My memories go back to when I was an eager freshman music major at Simpson. Little did I know at that time how many years my friendship with Dr. Larsen would span--from college, DMMO, all the way up to yesterday when he passed. He was my teacher, my mentor, and my very dear friend, and I am saddened beyond words. He meant so much to so many people, and I am honored that I was able to have been as close to him as I was. I'm sure he's with the Lekbergs, Anne Larson, Doug and Maria Duncan, and many...
– April Kaskey Angotti
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I was lucky enough as a Simpson student to take a class in opera from Dr. Larsen in 1973, to witness the set construction and even help with sewing the magnificent costumes of those early productions. What will always stay with me is how Dr. Larsen created a culture out of whole cloth with immense talent and sheer determination. He was a force. My condolences to his loved ones.
– Jan Knock