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: Messiah / Harper, Watts, Davis [Blu-ray Audio]
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002009546   Number of Discs: 1
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Browse 126-132 of 132 Available Recordings
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  • 126.
    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
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 127.
    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: $112.49
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  • 128.
    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: $13.99
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  • 129.
    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
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  • 130.
    Bach: St Matthew Passion / Klemperer, Pears, Ludwig, Et Al
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 63058 Release Date: 06/16/1989   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Christa Ludwig,  Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,  Nicolai Gedda  ... 
    Conductor:  Otto Klemperer
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hampstead Parish Church Boys' Choir,  Philharmonia Orchestra,  Philharmonia Chorus
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  • 131.
    Bach: Magnificat, Cantatas / Münchinger, Ansermet
    Label: London/Decca Serenata Series   Catalog: 433175 Release Date: 08/11/1992   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Tom Krause,  Helen Watts,  Werner Krenn,  Elly Ameling  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Münchinger,  Ernest Ansermet
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra,  Vienna Academy Chorus,  Suisse Romande Orchestra  ... 
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  • 132.
    Mahler: Symphony No 3 / Solti, Helen Watts
    Label: London/Decca Jubilee   Catalog: 414254 Release Date: 02/1991   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler,  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  Helen Watts
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
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