OBITUARY : Kurt Westi

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The Independent Online
In a 35-year operatic career Kurt Westi developed from a light lyric tenor with a sweet-toned but small voice into the robust interpreter of Verdi's Manrico, Don Carlos and Radames, and Puccini's Rodolfo, Cavaradossi and Pinkerton.

Although his repertory, to match his voice and vocal style, was mainly Italian, he had recently taken on some German roles, including Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos and Lohengrin, which seemed to offer a new direction. After many years spent abroad, mainly in other Scandinavian countries or in Germany, in the 1994/5 season Westi returned to Copenhagen to the Royal Theatre, and scored a huge success as Calaf in Turandot. He was singing the role for the first time, while Puccini's opera was receiving its first performance at the theatre.

Kurt Westi was born in 1939 in the Danish island of Oro. In 1954 he began to study the violin at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, but he switched after about a year to vocal studies. He made his debut in 1961 at the Odensee Theatre as Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The next year he was engaged at Kiel, and then in Hanover. During the late 1960s and early 1970s he appeared in Copenhagen as Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, the Shepherd in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and Lensky in Eugene Onegin; and in two Britten operas, as Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw and the title-role of Albert Herring.

Westi made his British debut in 1969 as Ferrando in Cos fan tutti with Scottish Opera. He returned to the UK in 1972 to sing Pylades in Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride at the Oxford Playhouse. His Fenton in Falstaff at Copenhagen in 1973 was still considered rather small-voiced for the size of the theatre. In Oslo during the early 1980s, Westi's repertory grew rapidly. He sang Matteo in Arabella, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, the false Dimitri in Boris Godunov, all quite heavy roles, as well as Cavaradossi, Rodolfo, and Alfredo in La Traviata. Engaged in Mannheim from 1986 to 1989, he took on many of the more heroic Verdi roles, as well as Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana, Werther, Hoffman and Peter Grimes. He also appeared in Stockholm, Berlin and Dusseldorf.

In 1992 Westi sang at the Barbican Hall in London as David in Nielsen's Saul og David. Lohengrin at Leipzig was a great success in 1994, the year he returned to Copenhagen, together with several other Danish singers who had spent long years in exile, but now felt that the new management with Elaine Padmore as Opera Director offered them productions and performances of international standard. His first role after his return was David, then came Turandot. His Calaf was a revelation, more especially to me, who had previously heard him only as Ferrando and Pylades more than 20 years earlier. His voice had greatly increased in size, without losing its warm, Italianate sound and he was immediately nicknamed "the Danish Pavarotti". Westi was due to sing Calaf again in Copenhagen in February 1997.

Elizabeth Forbes

Kurt Westi, opera singer: born Oro, Denmark 22 March 1939; married 1996 Grith Dirckinck-Holmfeld (one daughter); died Copenhagen 7 December 1996.