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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Q&A | 66 Questions for James Westman

By Michael Vincent on November 4, 2015

baritone James Westman (Photo: Rob Harris)
baritone James Westman (Photo: Rob Harris)

Every so often, MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

Raised on a farm near St. Mary’s, Ontario, Baritone James Westman has become one of Canada’s most respected operatic exports. Best known for his signature role as Germont in Verdi’s La traviata – which he has performed over 150 times across the world –  he has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and three Canadian Juno Awards. Westman has recorded on the Decca, Opera Rara, CBC and BBC labels and has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras as a soloist.

You can catch him next in Toronto as Germont, on November 6th in the COC’s production of La traviata.

Q&A

What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

Multiculturalism, beautiful people, and great art.

What are three things that Toronto doesn’t have but should?

Another Hockey team, another third World Series, and a little Santa Fe.

Name the musical equivalent to junk food.

AC/DC.

Default drink/cocktail of choice?

Family secret!

Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto.

The Four Seasons is an amazing treat! Koerner Hall for intimacy.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere.

Musikverein Vienna.

Your role models?

Miss Patricia Kern, Stephen Lord, and Bryn Terfel.

Your favourite sound?

Applause!

Your least favourite sound?

Car seat belt alarms.

Your favourite smells?

Real royal frankincense.

Your least favourite smells?

Fish bait forgotten in a cooler for a week.

First thing that comes to your mind when you think about Toronto.

My university friends.

The historical personalities, both good and bad that fascinate you the most? 

Guiseppe Verdi, Elvis Presley, and Abraham Lincoln.

The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair?

Hockey hair perm???

What are the three things you’d like to change about Toronto?

Less Traffic, more music education, more cultural education.

Is there a local music store that could sell you anything?

Remenyi House of Music. Michael is a dear friend.

Your first three record store purchases?

Bryan Adams, Micheal Jackson thriller, and a former boy treble friend that I competed with, Aled Jones.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?

Home!!!

The strangest place you’ve ever been to?

Roswell?

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams), Moby-Dick (Melville), Wuthering Heights (Brontë).

Whose musical style do you covet?

Classical.

Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?

Belize, pleasure / BC, work.

What is your biggest phobia?

Believe it or not, Mickey Mouse. When I was a child the oversized mouse gave me a hug for too long and I almost suffocated. To this day, I break out into to a cold sweat!

Where did you go to school?

Stratford Central Highschool

The cliché that you overuse?

Go to “b” gotta go to “b”.

The strangest talent that you possess?

Family secret.

Shoe of choice?

Rockports.

The different career path that you could have gone on?

Sports agent/lawyer.

Your ancestry?

Canadian since 1771: French Canadian, Irish, Iroquois and Greek.

Your three favourite films?

Godfather; Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; Amadeus.

Television show that you could tolerate re-runs of?

Big Bang Theory.

Under what circumstances would you join the army?

If they needed me.

Your most regrettable purchase ever?

Jimmy GMC SUV. Why did I do that?

Your major character flaw?

Pride and ego.

The character flaw in others that you can’t abide?

Apathy.

How do you know when you can trust someone?

When they see past the singer/hockey player.

What was the luckiest moment in your life?

Finally getting the chance to date my wife, Dini.

What was the unluckiest moment in your life?

The first three times Dini ignored my request for a date.

What are you the proudest of?

My boys, Liam and Hardy.

What are you the least proud of?

Holding on to the hate from bullies in my youth.

The biggest mistake you’ve ever made?

Using the little aria “Largo al factotum” as my finale at Cardiff Singer of the World. I had never performed the aria before that night and it was way too ambitious. I nervously rearranged a few words and managed a reasonable note at the end. Considering the famed baritone Sherryl Milnes, whose “Barber was next to none” was adjudicating; I received the audience favourite award at least.

What is the best thing about your work?

Sharing beautiful art with others around the globe.

What is the worst thing about your work?

Being away from your family. I have missed, first steps, first goals, first dates, graduations, holidays, and even Maple Leaf games. (Lol) one year I was only home 32 days of the year!

The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in?

A onesie – oh wait! I did wear that in the Canadian Opera Company’s Die Fledermaus and I did look ridiculous!

The talent that you wish you possessed?

I wish I could kite sail. Looks fun! Going to try it in a month.

What are you listening to as you answer these questions?

Various people conversing at a cafe.

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?

Electric guitar.

What sport did you give up and why?

Hockey… busted knee.

What is the game that you’re best at?

Hockey/Defenseman.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Everything is possible in your dreams.

What is the one animal that scares you the most?

That fish that can swim up your urethra when you take a pee! Seriously talk about food chain!

Editor’s Note:  Rest easy, James. We have it on goo authority that the Candirú fish doesn’t actually do that, but my god, wouldn’t it be horrific if it did.

Have you ever fired a gun? If so, what were the circumstances?

Many times! Hunting or at the range teaching my boys to shoot! I do not ever have a gun in my house. Until you have tried it, don’t knock it.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? 

One late night at a mall in Detroit with my family in the middle of gang violence and robbery. Finding an escape route.

Your favourite word?

“Paramount.”

Your least favourite word?

“But.”

Your favourite curse word?

“Tabarnouche!!!”

The thing that makes you the happiest?

My boys helping me at the family farm.

The thing that makes you the angriest?

My boys helping me at the family farm.

Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die?

My relationship with my wife, Dini; My relationship with my son, Liam; My relationship with my son, Hardy.

Name three pieces or composers that you never want to hear again

Many of them are alive today and may be reading this  ….so I can’t say.

The strangest road you’ve ever travelled?

I have yet to meet a strange road….maybe that is why I am always on the go! Every road leads to somewhere – that’s a good thing.

Your first memory?

My twin that passed away after I was born.

The first album that made you love music?

The first time I listened to Herbert von Karajan’s Falstaff blew me away.

Three pieces that you could listen to on repeat for an hour?

Bryn Terfel singing Purcell; Dietrich Fischer Dieskau singing Dichterliebe; Elizabeth Schwarzkopf singing Morgen by Strauss.

The one place that you have the least interest in ever visiting?

London, Ontario… sad that their official orchestra folded. There is always the London Junior Knights!

The best way to die?

Catching a fly ball in centre field at the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded with two outs.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is Publisher of Ludwig Van. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
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