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
Browse 126-148 of 148 Available Recordings
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  • 126.
    Wagner: Die Walküre / Solti, Vienna Philharmonic
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 455559 Release Date: 10/14/1997   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  Christa Ludwig,  Helga Dernesch,  Hans Hotter,  Birgit Nilsson  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 127.
    Wagner: Gotterdammerung / Solti, Et Al
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 455569 Release Date: 10/14/1997   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  Anita Välkki,  Grace Hoffman,  Helen Watts,  Gottlob Frick  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 128.
    Musica Sacra - Haydn: Masses / King's College Choir, Et Al
    Label: London/Decca Double Decker   Catalog: 455020 Release Date: 08/12/1997   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
    Performer:  Joseph Rouleau,  Alexander Young,  Helen Watts,  Erna Spoorenberg  ... 
    Conductor:  George Guest,  Sir David Willcocks
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Cambridge St. John's College Choir,  Cambridge King's College Choir  ... 
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  • 129.
    Bach: Christmas Oratorio / Münchinger, Ameling
    Label: London/Decca Double Decker   Catalog: 455410 Release Date: 06/30/1997   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Elly Ameling,  Peter Pears,  Tom Krause,  Helen Watts
    Conductor:  Karl Münchinger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lübeck Kantorei,  Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
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  • 130.
    Haydn: The Masses / Preston, Guest, Willcocks, Et Al
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 448518 Release Date: 06/24/1997   Number of Discs: 7
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
    Performer:  Forbes Robinson,  Robert Tear,  Helen Watts,  April Cantelo  ... 
    Conductor:  George Guest,  Sir David Willcocks,  Simon Preston
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Cambridge King's College Choir  ... 
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  • 131.
    Mendelssohn: Complete Symphonies Vol 2, Violin Concerto / Haitink, Grumiaux
    Label: Philips Duo   Catalog: 456074 Release Date: 03/11/1997   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
    Performer:  Rae Woodland,  Helen Watts,  Arthur Grumiaux
    Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
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  • 132.
    Bach: Cantatas - Ein Feste Burg, Etc / Gönnewein, Jones
    Label: Emi Classics Double Fforte   Catalog: 68670 Release Date: 01/21/1997   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Theo Altmeyer,  Elly Ameling,  Dame Janet Baker,  Hans Sotin  ... 
    Conductor:  Wolfgang Gönnenwein,  Geraint Jones
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium Musicum,  South German Madrigal Choir Stuttgart,  Geraint Jones Orchestra  ... 
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  • 133.
    Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 448921 Release Date: 06/03/1996   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  London Symphony Chorus
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  • 134.
    C.P.E. Bach: Magnificat; J.N. Bach: Missa Brevis / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 98970 Release Date: 11/01/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Nicolaus Bach,  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
    Performer:  Aldo Baldin,  Niklaus Tüller,  Uta Spreckelsen,  Erika Schmidt-Valentin  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
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  • 135.
    Vivaldi: Glorias, Etc / Guest, Cleobury
    Label: London/Decca Double Decker   Catalog: 443455 Release Date: 02/14/1995   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Antonio Vivaldi
    Performer:  David Briggs,  Richard Farnes,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Isobel Buchanan  ... 
    Conductor:  George Guest,  Stephen Cleobury
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir,  Cambridge King's College Choir,  English Chamber Orchestra  ... 
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  • 136.
    Pavarotti's Opera Made Easy - My Favorite Opera For Children
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 443817 Release Date: 08/23/1994   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Engelbert Humperdinck,  Gioachino Rossini,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Giuseppe Verdi  ... 
    Performer:  Julia Hamari,  Brigitte Fassbaender,  Lucia Popp,  Walter Berry  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti,  Silvio Varviso,  Richard Bonynge,  Herbert von Karajan
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Boys' Choir,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 137.
    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
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  • 138.
    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
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  • 139.
    Handel: Messiah / Davis, Harper, Et Al
    Label: Philips Duo   Catalog: 438356 Release Date: 11/09/1993   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Leslie Pearson,  Ralph Downes,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  London Symphony Chorus
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  • 140.
    Pierre Boulez Edition - Schoenberg: Moses Und Aron, Etc
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 48456 Release Date: 07/13/1993   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Arnold Schoenberg
    Performer:  Richard Angas,  Günter Reich,  Felicity Palmer,  Gillian Knight  ... 
    Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble InterContemporain,  Orpheus Boys' Choir,  BBC Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 141.
    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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  • 142.
    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  ... 
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  • 143.
    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
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  • 144.
    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  ... 
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  • 145.
    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: $9.99
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  • 146.
    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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  • 147.
    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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  • 148.
    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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