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Helen Watts

Biography

Born: December 7, 1927; Milford Haven, Wales   Died: October 7, 2009; Pembrokeshire  
Contralto Helen Watts was a leading member of that school of Welsh singers which came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. Nurtured in a British Isles atmosphere that had turned from insularity to international performance, Watts became the leading British contralto (or mezzo-contralto) in the post-Kathleen Ferrier age. Though never wanting in artistic temperament, she was a model colleague, always well-prepared and ready to sing a fully Read more invested performance. Her voice, of medium size though firmly focused, had a plushness that often made it seem larger than its actual size. She began by specializing in Handel and Bach, but grew artistically to become an exemplary singer of Mahler and Wagner. Watts did not neglect the works of Britten and Tippett either, performing and recording them as a part of her exceptionally extensive discography.

Watts studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and made her debut as Didymus in Handel's Theodora in a production mounted by the Handel Opera Society. She followed those performances with both Juno and Ines in Semele. She also sang in Rinaldo, an opera which she repeated at Berlin's Komische Oper and at Halle in 1961. By the early 1960s, she had established a relationship with the English Opera Group and played an important part in performances of Britten's operas, assuming the title role in The Rape of Lucretia during the EOG's 1964 tour of Russia. She sang at Covent Garden from 1965 to 1971, offering her richly vocalized Erda and First Norn, portraying Mrs. Sedley in Britten's Peter Grimes, and offering a commanding Sosostris in a revival of Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage. At the Welsh National Opera, she also performed numerous roles suitable for a contralto, among them Sosostris, Mrs. Sedley, a delicious Dame Quickly, and Lanina. At Salzburg in 1971, she was well received as Farnace in Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto and in 1978, she sang a moving Arnalta in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea with the Scottish Opera.

However busy she may have seemed in the opera world, Watts was busier still in recital and concert work. Her initial performances in Handel led to a recording of Handel cantatas and then a flood of discs of wide-ranging repertory. She made numerous recordings of Bach, paralleling her live performances throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and America. Her years at Covent Garden coincided with the musical directorship of Georg Solti. Taken by her sumptuous voice and quality of musicianship, he employed her services for several recording projects and afforded her the international prominence she deserved. Aside from her First Norn in his Decca Götterdämmerung, he engaged her for his recordings of Mahler's Second, Third, and Eighth symphonies, all widely distributed and warmly praised. When Solti assumed the directorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he brought Watts to Chicago for a series of memorable performances, including Mahler's Second Symphony and Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

Watts' Sosostris was recorded following the Tippett revival, the electronic medium greatly clarifying the composer's extremely thick orchestration and allowing her glorious singing to be heard. Watts was virtually on call to recording companies during her prime years, valued for her amazing consistency and unfussy approach to studio work. Her Angel in Elgar's Dream of Gerontius ranked with the best, and her interpretation of the contralto part in the Colin Davis recording of Handel's Messiah (including "But Who May Abide") is regarded by many as unsurpassed. Her recordings of Lieder were likewise exemplary, especially Brahms and Wolf. Read less
Handel: Sosarme / Lewis, Deller, Watts, Herbert
Release Date: 01/01/2012   Label: Andromeda  
Catalog: 5053   Number of Discs: 2
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Browse 1-25 of 132 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    Pierre Boulez - The Complete Columbia Album Collection [67-CD Set]
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 301333 Release Date: 11/24/2014   Number of Discs: 67
    Composer:  Béla Bartók,  Alexander Scriabin,  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Alban Berg  ... 
    Performer:  Karl Dönch,  Isabel Strauss,  Walter Berry,  Fritz Uhl  ... 
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    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Philharmonic,  Camerata Singers,  Schola Cantorum New York  ... 
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  • 2.
    Phase 4 Stereo - Stereo Concert Series
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 002188302 Release Date: 10/27/2014   Number of Discs: 41
    Composer:  John Philip Sousa,  Charles A. Zimmerman,  Francis S. Van Boskerck,  George Norton  ... 
    Performer:  Stanley Black,  David Parkhouse,  Alan Loveday,  Robert Merrill  ... 
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    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grenadier Guards Band,  London Festival Orchestra,  London Festival Recording Ensemble  ... 
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  • 3.
    The Argo Years / Neville Marriner, Academy Of St Martin In The Fields [28-CD Set]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 002081902 Release Date: 06/03/2014   Number of Discs: 28
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel,  Arcangelo Corelli,  Giuseppe Torelli,  Pietro Antonio Locatelli  ... 
    Performer:  Gwynne Howell,  Philip Langridge,  Anna Reynolds,  Elly Ameling  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus,  Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
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  • 4.
    Handel: Messiah / Harper, Watts, Davis [Blu-ray Audio]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 002009546 Release Date: 03/25/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Heather Harper,  Helen Watts,  John Shirley-Quirk,  John Wakefield
    Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Chorus,  London Symphony Orchestra
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  • 5.
    Richard Strauss: Complete Operas
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 002013902 Release Date: 03/25/2014   Number of Discs: 33
    Composer:  Richard Strauss
    Performer:  Anneliese Rothenberger,  Cäcilie Reich,  Eva Maria Rogner,  Ira Malaniuk  ... 
    Conductor:  Joseph Keilberth,  Giuseppe Sinopoli,  Karl Böhm,  Sir Georg Solti  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian State Opera Orchestra,  Bavarian State Opera Chorus,  Dresden Staatskapelle  ... 
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  • 6.
    The Westminster Legacy
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 001999302 Release Date: 02/18/2014   Number of Discs: 40
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Franz Joseph Haydn,  Gustav Mahler  ... 
    Performer:  Sena Jurinac,  Lucretia West,  Hans Loeffler,  Frederick Guthrie  ... 
    Conductor:  Hermann Scherchen,  Pierre Monteux,  René Leibowitz,  Erich Leinsdorf  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vienna State Opera Orchestra,  Vienna Academy Chamber Chorus  ... 
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  • 7.
    Mahler: Symphony No 8 / Solti, Chicago [Blu-ray Audio]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001993346 Release Date: 02/11/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  Heather Harper,  Arleen Augér,  Yvonne Minton,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Singverein,  Vienna Boys' Choir  ... 
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  • 8.
    Pierre Boulez Conducts Schoenberg
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 42957 Release Date: 01/01/2014   Number of Discs: 11
    Composer:  Arnold Schoenberg
    Performer:  Siegmund Nimsgern,  Kenneth Bowen,  Ian Partridge,  Paul Hudson  ... 
    Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Singers,  New York Philharmonic  ... 
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  • 9.
    Das Alte Werk - 50-CD Collection
    Label: Teldec   Catalog: 46438 Release Date: 11/19/2013   Number of Discs: 50
    Composer:  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach,  Johann Sebastian Bach,  George Frideric Handel,  Orlando Gibbons  ... 
    Performer:  Herbert Tachezi,  Gustav Leonhardt,  Frans Brüggen,  Jeannette Van Wingerden  ... 
    Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt,  Gustav Leonhardt,  Werner Ehrhardt,  Giovanni Antonini  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Concentus Musicus,  Leonhardt Consort,  Studio for Early Music  ... 
    On sale! $299.98
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  • 10.
    Decca Sound - The Analogue Years
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001934702 Release Date: 11/19/2013   Number of Discs: 54
    Composer:  Camille Saint-Saëns,  Anton Bruckner,  Arnold Schoenberg,  Giuseppe Verdi  ... 
    Performer:  Pascal Rogé,  Dame Joan Sutherland,  Marilyn Horne,  Luciano Pavarotti  ... 
    Conductor:  Charles Dutoit,  Sir Georg Solti,  Bernard Haitink,  Horst Stein  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Chicago Symphony Orchestra  ... 
    On sale! $169.98
    CD: $148.49
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  • 11.
    BBC Legends - Great Recordings from the Archive
    Label: Ica Classics   Catalog: 5113 Release Date: 10/29/2013   Number of Discs: 20
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler,  Dmitri Shostakovich,  Robert Schumann,  Johann Sebastian Bach  ... 
    Performer:  Beryl Hatt,  Agnes Giebel,  Joyce Barker,  Kerstin Meyer  ... 
    Conductor:  Jascha Horenstein,  Yevgeny Mravinsky,  Arturo Toscanini,  Kiril Kondrashin  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  Orpington Junior Singers,  Goldsmiths' Choral Union  ... 
    CD: $98.99
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  • 12.
    Britten The Performer - Complete Decca Recordings
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001922102 Release Date: 10/22/2013   Number of Discs: 27
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Henry Purcell,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Franz Joseph Haydn  ... 
    Performer:  Adrian Thompson,  John Tobin,  Jenny Hill,  Robert Tear  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  Wandsworth School Boys' Choir,  Wandsworth School Choir  ... 
    Recommendation
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  • 13.
    Sacred Music - Bach, Handel, Beethoven / Klemperer
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 935402 Release Date: 08/20/2013   Number of Discs: 8
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  George Frideric Handel,  Ludwig van Beethoven
    Performer:  Franz Crass,  Agnes Giebel,  Nicolai Gedda,  Dame Janet Baker  ... 
    Conductor:  Otto Klemperer
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Philharmonia Orchestra,  BBC Chorus,  Philharmonia Orchestra  ... 
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  • 14.
    Music Of Steel - Heroic Themes From The Movies
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001871502 Release Date: 07/09/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John T. Williams,  Gioachino Rossini,  Richard Strauss,  Richard Wagner  ... 
    Performer:  Birgit Nilsson,  Berit Lindholm,  Helen Watts,  Brigitte [Mezzo-Soprano Vocal] Fassbaender  ... 
    Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly,  Sir G. Solti,  Stanley Black,  Antal Doráti  ... 
    CD: $11.99
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  • 15.
    Elgar: Complete EMI Recordings / Sir Adrian Boult
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 35922 Release Date: 07/02/2013   Number of Discs: 19
    Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar,  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Frédéric Chopin
    Performer:  Yehudi Menuhin,  Pablo Casals,  Paul Tortelier,  Ida Haendel  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult,  Sir Philip Ledger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  New Philharmonia Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 16.
    Bach: Cantatas 198, 158 & 27 / Jurgens, Concerto Amsterdam
    Label: Teldec   Catalog: 2564647632 Release Date: 06/25/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Max van Egmond,  Kurt Equiluz,  Helen Watts,  Rotraud Hansmann
    Conductor:  Jürgen Jürgens
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Concerto Amsterdam,  Monteverdi Choir Hamburg
    CD: $9.99
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  • 17.
    Solti Conducts The Strauss Operas [15-CD Set]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001746102 Release Date: 10/16/2012   Number of Discs: 15
    Composer:  Richard Strauss
    Performer:  Waldemar Kmentt,  Hilde Gueden,  Eberhard Wächter,  Wilhelm Lenninger  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 18.
    Solti Conducts The Wagner Operas [36-CD Set]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001746302 Release Date: 10/16/2012   Number of Discs: 36
    Composer:  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  René Kollo,  Werner Krenn,  Isola Jones,  Janis Martin  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra,  Chicago Symphony Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 19.
    Magnificat - 500 Years Of Choral Masterworks [50-CD Set]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001664502 Release Date: 04/10/2012   Number of Discs: 50
    Composer:  Gregorio Allegri,  Antonio Lotti,  Orlando de Lassus,  Josquin Des Préz  ... 
    Performer:  Patrick Russill,  Marinella Pennicchi,  Michael Chance,  Mark Tucker  ... 
    Conductor:  Harry Christophers,  Paul McCreesh,  Stephen Cleobury,  Edward Wickham  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  Gabrieli Consort,  Gabrieli Players  ... 
    CD: $179.99
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  • 20.
    Delius - 150th Anniversary Edition [18-CDs]
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 0841752 Release Date: 01/10/2012   Number of Discs: 18
    Composer:  Frederick Delius
    Performer:  Piers Lane,  John Noble,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Yehudi Menuhin  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Thomas Beecham,  Sir John Barbirolli,  Vernon Handley,  Sir Charles Mackerras  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Hallé Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 21.
    Handel: Sosarme / Lewis, Deller, Watts, Herbert
    Label: Andromeda   Catalog: 5053 Release Date: 01/01/2012   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Ian Wallace,  William Herbert,  Alfred Deller  ... 
    Conductor:  Anthony Lewis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Santa Cecilia Chamber Orchestra,  St. Anthony Singers
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  • 22.
    The Decca Sound [50-CD Set]
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001619902 Release Date: 11/15/2011   Number of Discs: 50
    Composer:  Manuel de Falla,  Claude Debussy,  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,  Enrique Granados  ... 
    Performer:  Teresa Berganza,  Alfredo Campoli,  Vladimir Ashkenazy,  Cecilia Bartoli  ... 
    Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet,  Ataulfo Argenta,  Anatole Fistoulari,  Vladimir Ashkenazy  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra,  Philharmonia Orchestra  ... 
    CD: $175.49
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  • 23.
    Bach: Complete Cantatas / Rilling, Stuttgart Bach Collegium
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 98630 Release Date: 08/30/2011   Number of Discs: 71
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Walter Heldwein,  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Aldo Baldin,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Frankfurt Kantorei  ... 
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  • 24.
    British Composers - Delius, Howells, Hadley
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 95405 Release Date: 05/03/2011   Number of Discs: 5
    Composer:  Frederick Delius,  Herbert Howells,  Patrick Hadley
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper,  Robert Tear,  Benjamin Luxon  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Charles Groves,  Sir David Willcocks,  Sir Adrian Boult
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir,  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 25.
    Mahler - The People's Edition
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 001501802 Release Date: 12/14/2010   Number of Discs: 13
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  Christa Ludwig,  Ileana Cotrubas,  Anna Larsson,  Edith Mathis  ... 
    Conductor:  Rafael Kubelik,  Zubin Mehta,  Claudio Abbado,  Herbert von Karajan  ... 
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