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 94 Available Recordings
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  • 26.
    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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  • 27.
    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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  • 28.
    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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  • 29.
    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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  • 30.
    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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  • 31.
    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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  • 32.
    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
    CD: $12.99
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  • 33.
    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  ... 
    CD: $29.99
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  • 34.
    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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  • 35.
    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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  • 36.
    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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  • 37.
    Elgar - The Collector's Edition [30-Disc Set]
    Label: Warner 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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  • 38.
    Gilbert & Sullivan: The Gondoliers / Sir Malcolm Sargent
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 64394 Release Date: 10/31/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Arthur Sullivan
    Performer:  John [baritone (50s)] Cameron,  Lavinia Renton,  James Milligan,  Monica Sinclair  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Malcolm Sargent
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pro Arte Orchestra,  Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
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  • 39.
    Handel: Semele / Somary, Diaz, Watts, Armstrong
    Label: Musical Concepts   Catalog: 2003 Release Date: 10/09/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Sheila Armstrong,  Robert Tear,  Felicity Palmer,  Justino Diaz  ... 
    Conductor:  Johannes Somary
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  Amor Artis Chorale
    CD: $13.99
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  • 40.
    Handel: Judas Maccabeus / Somary, Harper, Et Al
    Label: Musical Concepts   Catalog: 2002 Release Date: 08/07/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  John Shirley-Quirk,  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper,  Alexander Young
    Conductor:  Johannes Somary
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
    CD: $13.99
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  • 41.
    Mahler: Symphony No 2 / Solti, London Symphony Orchestra
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000897602 Release Date: 07/10/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Chorus,  London Symphony Orchestra
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  • 42.
    Ultimate Opera - The Essential Masterpieces
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000895102 Release Date: 06/12/2007   Number of Discs: 5
    Composer:  Giacomo Puccini,  Giuseppe Verdi,  George Frideric Handel,  Gaetano Donizetti  ... 
    Performer:  Renata Tebaldi,  Marilyn Horne,  Giuseppe Di Stefano,  Dame Joan Sutherland  ... 
    Conductor:  Lamberto Gardelli,  Henry Lewis,  Francesco Molinari-Pradelli,  Lorin Maazel  ... 
    CD: $21.99
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  • 43.
    Strauss: Elektra / Solti, Nilsson, Resnik, Collier, Krause
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000830302 Release Date: 05/08/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Richard Strauss
    Performer:  Marie Collier,  Tom Krause,  Gerhard Stolze,  Regina Resnik  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 44.
    Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage / Davis, Herincx, Et Al
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 2217 Release Date: 03/13/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Michael Tippett
    Performer:  Elisabeth Bainbridge,  Alberto Remedios,  Stuart Burrows,  Elizabeth Harwood  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus,  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
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  • 45.
    Bach: Alto Arias / Rilling, Danz, Hamari, Laurich, Watts
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 98243 Release Date: 01/09/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Carolyn Watkinson,  Hildegard Laurich,  Julia Hamari  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium
    CD: $17.99
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  • 46.
    Essential Choral Classics
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000691802 Release Date: 06/13/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Carl Orff,  George Frideric Handel,  Gregorio Allegri,  Felix Mendelssohn  ... 
    Performer:  Roy Goodman,  Alastair Hussain,  Bryn Terfel,  Norma Burrowes  ... 
    Conductor:  Charles Dutoit,  Sir David Willcocks,  Stephen Cleobury,  Paul Daniel  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montreal Symphony Orchestra,  Montreal Symphony Chamber Choir,  FACE Treble Choir  ... 
    CD: $11.99
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  • 47.
    Mahler: Symphony No 8 / Solti, Chicago Symphony, Et Al
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000691902 Release Date: 06/13/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  Arleen Augér,  Heather Harper,  Yvonne Minton,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra,  Vienna Boys' Choir,  Vienna State Opera Chorus  ... 
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  • 48.
    Bach: Cantatas / Ameling, Baker, Sutherland
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 76936 Release Date: 02/21/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Dennis Clift,  Edward Selwyn,  Thomas Hemsley,  Wilfred Brown  ... 
    Conductor:  Geraint Jones,  Wolfgang Gönnenwein
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Geraint Jones Orchestra,  Geraint Jones Singers,  Consortium Musicum  ... 
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  • 49.
    Gemini - Haydn: Masses / Wilhelm, Marriner, Et Al
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 86519 Release Date: 05/24/2005   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Werner Keltsch,  Kurt Equiluz,  Siegmund Nimsgern  ... 
    Conductor:  Gerhard Wilhelm,  Sir Neville Marriner
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Instrumental Ensemble,  Stuttgart Hymnus Boys Choir,  Leipzig Radio Chorus  ... 
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  • 50.
    Handel: Sosarme / Lewis, Deller, Watts, Herbert, Et Al
    Label: Urania Records   Catalog: 270 Release Date: 01/25/2005   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  John Kentish,  Margaret Ritchie,  Alfred Deller,  William Herbert  ... 
    Conductor:  Anthony Lewis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Anthony Singers,  Santa Cecilia Chamber Orchestra
    CD: $29.99
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