Helen Watts


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
Browse 101-108 of 108 Available Recordings
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  • 101.
    R. Strauss: Elektra / Karajan, Mödl, Varnay, Hillebrecht
    Label: Orfeo D'or   Catalog: 298922 Release Date: 08/22/1994   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Richard Strauss
    Performer:  James King,  Eberhard Wächter,  Margarete Sjösted,  Cvetka Ahlin  ... 
    Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vienna State Opera Chorus
    CD: $39.99
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  • 102.
    Bach: Cantatas 198, 158 & 27 / Jürgens, Concerto Amsterdam
    Label: Teldec Das Alte Werk   Catalog: 93687 Release Date: 06/07/1994   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Rotraud Hansmann,  Max van Egmond,  Helen Watts,  Kurt Equiluz
    Conductor:  Jürgen Jürgens
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monteverdi Choir Hamburg,  Concerto Amsterdam
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 103.
    Handel: Samson / Leppard, Baker, Watts, Tear, Luxon
    Label: Erato Libretto   Catalog: 45994 Release Date: 05/11/1993   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Benjamin Luxon,  Felicity Lott,  Philip Langridge,  Norma Burrowes  ... 
    Conductor:  Raymond Leppard
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Voices,  English Chamber Orchestra
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  • 104.
    Bach: Magnificat; Vivaldi: Gloria, Beatus Vir / Rilling, Malgoire
    Label: Sony Classical Essential Classics   Catalog: 48280 Release Date: 02/23/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Antonio Vivaldi,  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Jocelyne Chamonin,  Carolyn Watkinson,  Mary Burgess,  Ann Murray  ... 
    Conductor:  Jean-Claude Malgoire,  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy,  Raphael Passaquet Vocal Ensemble,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart  ... 
    CD: $17.99
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  • 105.
    Scarlatti, Vivaldi: Stabat Mater / Poole, Malgoire
    Label: Sony Classical Essential Classics   Catalog: 48282 Release Date: 02/23/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Antonio Vivaldi,  Domenico Scarlatti
    Performer:  Marilyn Hill Smith,  Anna Bernardin,  Ian Partridge,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Jean-Claude Malgoire,  John Poole
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Bach Festival Choir,  English Bach Festival Orchestra,  BBC Singers
    CD: $17.99
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  • 106.
    Mahler: The Symphonies / Solti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 430804 Release Date: 02/11/1992   Number of Discs: 10
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  René Kollo,  Heather Harper,  Arleen Augér,  Yvonne Minton  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra,  Vienna Boys' Choir,  Vienna Singverein  ... 
    CD: $72.49
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  • 107.
    Mozart: Requiem / Marriner, Cotrubas, Watts, Tear, Et Al
    Label: London/Decca Jubilee   Catalog: 417746 Release Date: 10/25/1990   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Robert Tear,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Ileana Cotrubas
    Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus
    CD: $16.99
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  • 108.
    Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream / Britten, London So
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 425663 Release Date: 03/30/1990   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Stephen Terry,  Elizabeth Harwood,  Helen Watts,  Owen Brannigan  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
    On sale! $33.99
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