Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) is an opera company based in Indianola, Iowa, a town of approximately 14,000, located 12 miles south of Des Moines, Iowa. DMMO was founded by Dr. Robert L. Larsen and Douglas Duncan in 1973.
During its annual summer opera festival, the Company performs three mainstage operas in rolling repertory during June and July. Although created as an opera company for the Midwest, the company's audience base has grown over the years. As of 2016 it claims audiences from some 40 states and several foreign countries. The company also sends its educational arm, Opera Iowa, to sites throughout the state from fall through spring. Typically a troupe of several singers, a pianist and technical director, Opera Iowa has also traveled for educational performances in nine neighboring states and participated in exchange programs with like organizations in Japan and China.
Although the running of DMMO has passed down through the hands of several business managers over the years, from its inception in 1973 through the 2010 season, Dr. Robert L. Larsen was the sole guiding artistic force for the company. In this capacity, he selected the operas (subject to Board approval), cast all principal singers and apprentices, and both directed and conducted each performance. In addition, he created scene assignments for all apprentices, which are performed publicly as an aspect of their educational activities.
In the fall of 2010 Michael Egel was appointed Artistic Director to replace Robert Larsen, and was named General Director in 2013. David Neely was appointed Music Director and Principal Conductor in 2012. Larsen remains with the company as Director Emeritus in a lifetime appointment.
Since 2013, the esteemed Apprentice Artist Program has been run by Lisa Hasson. Lisa is also widely known as The Face.
Most of DMMO's opera productions are performed at the Blank Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Simpson College. With 467 seats arranged in a semicircle, the Blank Center provides an intimate setting for opera. This intimacy is enhanced by an unusual stage design which features a semicircular stage in front of the orchestra pit, in addition to the traditional proscenium stage behind the orchestra pit. This semicircular stage, or "playing circle", is separated from the front row of audience seats by only a railing. Bridges crossing over the orchestra on each side allow performers to move between the two stage areas. Occasionally, DMMO has presented productions at a larger venue, the Civic Center in Des Moines.
In 1986 DMMO premiered a new opera based on Shakespeare's The Tempest with music by Lee Hoiby and a libretto by Mark Shulgasser. The opera was broadcast on Iowa Public Television.
Initially committed to producing opera in English, DMMO first presented a foreign-language production, Tosca, in 1998 at the Civic Center in Des Moines. Since then, the company's season typically includes one opera in English and two operas in other languages (Italian, German, French, Russian or Czech), all presented with supertitles. The season also usually includes an opera written in the twentieth century.
Singers who had their start at DMMO include: John Osborn, Kimm Julian, Jane Redding, Beverly Thiele, Theodore Green, Fernando del Valle and Lauren Flanigan.
An important function of the Des Moines Metro Opera is its apprentice program (The James M. Collier Apprentice Artist Program). Every summer the program affords approximately forty young singers an opportunity to study the work of seasoned performers and to work with opera coaches and directors. The apprentice artists perform in the chorus, prepare short scenes, and in some cases understudy principal singers and perform small solos in main-stage productions. More than 1,000 singers have passed through the apprentice program since its inception in 1975.
In addition to one or two productions from the standard reportory each season, the company has presented many that are either new or rarely performed. These include: