Robert L. Larsen, who helped found the metro opera Des Moines and was known in music circles as the Magician of Iowa, died Sunday at the age of 86.
Today the world has lost a visionary and an artist, and our company has lost a beacon, DMMO artistic director MichaelEgel said in a press release. The thousands of musicians, friends and colleagues who have known, learned and interacted with this unique and remarkable man over his 50+ years have been forever changed. “
Larsen was born on Nov. 28, 1934, outside the town of Walnut, in southwest Iowa, and died peacefully Sunday in Indianola, according to the press release.
The Musical Life of Robert Larsen from Simpson College to DMMO
Larsen began a musical life around the age of 10, when he began taking piano lessons and listened to the Saturday afternoon radio shows from the Metropolitan Opera.
Larsen attended Simpson College to study piano with composer Sven Lekberg, attended the University of Michigan for graduate studies, returned to Simpson’s music school, and completed his doctorate in coaching and opera conducting. at the Jacob School of Music at Indiana University.
He taught music at Simpson College from 1957 to 2017 and was department chair from 1965 to 1999.
When Larsen co-founded DMMO in 1973 with Douglas Duncan, they experimented with both the summer festival format and the performance space at the Blank Performing Arts Center at Simpson College. His first season included Puccinis “La Rondine”, Benjamin Brittens “Albert Herring” and a double project of Menottis “The Medium” associated with the North American premiere of Arthur Benjamins “Prima Donna”.
Larsen went on to become a conductor and director for about 120 productions in DMMO’s first 37 seasons, according to the press release.
In 2002, before DMMO’s 30th anniversary, Larsen said he started the company because he wanted a creative outlet in the Midwest for young artists.
“I am delighted to have a tribute and to have him recognize that 30 successful years have been crowned with success, and a dream that I was happy to start has worked,” said Larsen.
“We are all richer for the experience of learning, working and playing alongside him. His legacy is immense. Nothing will be quite the same,” Egel said.
John Benoit, chair of the music department at Simpson College and professor of music, said Larsen had a huge impact on Simpson College during his six decades in Simpson’s faculty.
Larsen’s efforts to build the Blank Performing Arts Center in the 1970s, among other on-campus facilities, will leave a lasting impact on the music department, Benoit said, while emphasizing performance in the program. undergraduate opera.
“He’s always had this vision of a great opera program and has worked over the years to get the resources behind the production so that it has really high production values all the time,” said Benoit.
Benoit called Larsen a “force of nature” who took on the unusual task of both directing and conducting all of his productions while retaining his position as a music teacher. He said Larsen’s dedication to opera and teaching meant he had high expectations of his students and teachers.
Commemorative concert in preparation
According to the press release, public visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Overton Funeral Home in Indianola and from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church in Walnut. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no public burial service is planned.
The press release said that DMMO will hold a memorial concert to celebrate his life when it is safe to do so. Further details will be available at a later date.
Memorial contributions can be directed to the Robert L. Larsen Scenic Fund of the Des Moines Metro Opera Foundation, which provides annual funding to support the design and construction of new sets and original productions each season.
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