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 26-50 of 149 Available Recordings
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  • 26.
    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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  • 27.
    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  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 28.
    Bach: Great Choral Works / Munchinger, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
    Label: Newton Classics   Catalog: 8802001 Release Date: 07/27/2010   Number of Discs: 9
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Tom Krause,  Elly Ameling,  Helen Watts,  Yvonne Minton  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Münchinger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Singakademie,  Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra,  Stuttgart Hymnus Choir  ... 
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  • 29.
    George Frideric Handel: Alexander's Feast; The Choice Of Hercules
    Label: Erato   Catalog: 28520 Release Date: 05/18/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper,  Robert Tear,  James Bowman
    Conductor:  Philip Ledger
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  • 30.
    Beethoven: Symphony No 9 / Stokowski, London Symphony
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 421636 Release Date: 04/08/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper,  Alexander Young,  Donald McIntyre
    Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Chorus,  London Symphony Orchestra
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  • 31.
    Berlioz: Beatrice et Benedict / Davis, Baker, Allen
    Label: Philips   Catalog: 475221 Release Date: 03/25/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Hector Berlioz
    Performer:  Dame Janet Baker,  Thomas Allen,  Jules Bastin,  Christiane Eda-Pierre  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  John Alldis Choir,  London Symphony Orchestra
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  • 32.
    Handel: L'allegro ed il penseroso, Cantatas / Watts, Willcocks, Leppard
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 433737 Release Date: 02/25/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Elizabeth Harwood,  Elsie Morison,  Jacqueline Delman  ... 
    Conductor:  Raymond Leppard,  Sir David Willcocks
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  St. Anthony Singers,  Philomusica of London
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  • 33.
    Britten At Aldeburgh - Bach: Cantatas; Purcell: Birthday Ode For Queen Mary
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 466819 Release Date: 01/28/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Henry Purcell
    Performer:  Dame Janet Baker,  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,  Peter Pears,  John Shirley-Quirk  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  Aldeburgh Festival Chorus,  Wandsworth School Choir  ... 
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  • 34.
    Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus, Beatus Vir / Stephen Cleobury
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 414495 Release Date: 01/12/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Antonio Vivaldi
    Performer:  John Shirley-Quirk,  Ian Partridge,  Helen Watts,  Isobel Buchanan  ... 
    Conductor:  Stephen Cleobury
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge King's College Choir,  English Chamber Orchestra
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  • 35.
    Benjamin Britten - The Rarities
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 468811 Release Date: 10/09/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Peter Pears,  Benjamin Britten,  Mstislav Rostropovich,  Galina Vishnevskaya  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten,  John Iveson,  George Malcolm
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Wandsworth School Boys' Choir,  London Symphony Chorus,  London Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 36.
    Flower Duet - The World's Most Beautiful Duets / Sutherland, Fassbaender, Tebaldi, Horne
    Label: Eloquence   Catalog: 4802594 Release Date: 08/04/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Léo Delibes,  Jacques Offenbach,  Engelbert Humperdinck,  Gioachino Rossini  ... 
    Performer:  Dame Joan Sutherland,  Jane Berbié,  Huguette Tourangeau,  Lucia Popp  ... 
    Conductor:  Richard Bonynge,  Sir Georg Solti,  Sir Colin Davis,  Riccardo Chailly  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monte Carlo National Opera Orchestra,  Suisse Romande Orchestra,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 37.
    Handel: Messiah / Leppard, Palmer / English Chamber Orchestra & Chorus
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 4692835 Release Date: 04/06/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Felicity Palmer,  Helen Watts,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Ryland Davies
    Conductor:  Raymond Leppard
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  English Chamber Orchestra Choir
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  • 38.
    Britten: Spring Symphony, Cantata Academica, Etc / Britten
    Label: London/Decca British Collection   Catalog: 425153 Release Date: 02/18/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Jennifer Vyvyan,  Norma Procter,  Peter Pears,  Owen Brannigan  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten,  George Malcolm
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus,  Emmanuel School Boys Chorus  ... 
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  • 39.
    Handel Edition: Messiah; Samson; Arias From Rinaldo
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 469568 Release Date: 02/17/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Felicity Palmer,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Ryland Davies  ... 
    Conductor:  Raymond Leppard,  Claudio Scimone
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  English Chamber Orchestra Choir,  London Voices  ... 
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  • 40.
    Bach: Mass In B Minor / Karl Münchinger
    Label: London/Decca Jubilee   Catalog: 414251 Release Date: 01/30/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Werner Krenn,  Helen Watts,  Yvonne Minton,  Elly Ameling  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Münchinger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra,  Vienna Singverein
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  • 41.
    Bach: Orchestral Suites 2 & 3, Cantatas Bwv 45, 101, 105, 130 / Ansermet
    Label: Eloquence   Catalog: 4800027 Release Date: 11/29/2008   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Werner Krenn,  Elly Ameling,  Tom Krause,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lausanne Pro Arte Chorus,  Suisse Romande Orchestra,  Suisse Romande Chorus
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  • 42.
    J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach: Magnificat / Ledger, King's College
    Label: London/Decca Jubilee   Catalog: 421148 Release Date: 09/16/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
    Performer:  Stephen Roberts,  Robert Tear,  Helen Watts,  Felicity Palmer
    Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Cambridge King's College Choir
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  • 43.
    Alfred Deller Complete Vanguard Recordings - Music Of Henry Purcell / 7-Disc Set
    Label: Musical Concepts   Catalog: 194 Release Date: 09/02/2008   Number of Discs: 7
    Composer:  Henry Purcell,  John Blow
    Performer:  George Malcolm,  Sir Neville Marriner,  Granville Jones,  Desmond Dupré  ... 
    Conductor:  Gustav Leonhardt,  Alfred Deller,  Nikolaus Harnoncourt,  Michael Tippett
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leonhardt Consort,  Kalmar Chamber Orchestra London,  Deller Consort  ... 
    CD: $39.99
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  • 44.
    Great Operatic Duets
    Label: London/Decca Opera Gala Series   Catalog: 421314 Release Date: 09/02/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini,  Hector Berlioz,  Léo Delibes,  Gaetano Donizetti  ... 
    Performer:  Dame Joan Sutherland,  Marilyn Horne,  Helen Watts,  April Cantelo  ... 
    Conductor:  Richard Bonynge
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra
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  • 45.
    Vaughan Williams - The Collector's Edition
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 06636 Release Date: 07/08/2008   Number of Discs: 30
    Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  Anonymous,  Traditional,  Henry Walford Davies
    Performer:  Norma Burrowes,  Ian Partridge,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Raimund Herincx  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult,  Meredith Davies,  Sir Charles Groves,  Sir David Willcocks  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Choir,  New Philharmonia Orchestra  ... 
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  • 46.
    Bach: Easter Oratorio, Cantata, BWV 10 / Münchinger
    Label: London/Decca Jubilee   Catalog: 425650 Release Date: 06/10/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Tom Krause,  Werner Krenn,  Elly Ameling,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Münchinger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra,  Vienna Academy Chorus
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  • 47.
    Brahms: Symphonies, Alto Rhapsody, Requiem / Ansermet, Suisse Romande Orchestra
    Label: Eloquence   Catalog: 4800448 Release Date: 05/24/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johannes Brahms
    Performer:  Agnes Giebel,  Hermann Prey,  Helen Watts
    Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra,  Lausanne Pro Arte Chorus,  Suisse Romande Chorus
    On sale! $31.98
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  • 48.
    Bach: Mass In B Minor / Harnoncourt, Hansmann, Et Al
    Label: Teldec Das Alte Werk   Catalog: 433468 Release Date: 02/26/2008   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Max van Egmond,  Rotraud Hansmann,  Kurt Equiluz,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Concentus Musicus,  Chorus Viennensis,  Vienna Boys' Choir
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  • 49.
    Wagner: Die Walküre - Highlights / Solti, Nilsson, Et Al
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 421887 Release Date: 01/21/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  James King,  Hans Hotter,  Birgit Nilsson,  Régine Crespin  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 50.
    Elgar - The Collector's Edition [30-Disc Set]
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 03603 Release Date: 11/06/2007   Number of Discs: 30
    Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar,  Charles Hubert Parry,  Frédéric Chopin
    Performer:  Hugh Bean,  David Parkhouse,  John Ogdon,  Herbert Sumsion  ... 
    Conductor:  Vernon Handley,  Sir Charles Groves,  Sir John Barbirolli,  Sir Edward Elgar  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra,  New Philharmonia Orchestra,  Allegri String Quartet  ... 
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