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 51-75 of 99 Available Recordings
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  • 51.
    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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  • 52.
    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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  • 53.
    Handel: Sosarme / Lewis, Deller, Watts, Herbert, Et Al
    Label: Urania   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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  • 54.
    Bach: Mass In B Minor / Somary, Palmer, Watts, Tear, Et Al
    Label: Vanguard   Catalog: 1242 Release Date: 10/21/2003   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Felicity Palmer,  Helen Watts,  Robert Tear,  Michael Rippon
    Conductor:  Johannes Somary
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  Amor Artis Chorale
    CD: $14.99
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  • 55.
    Mozart: Mitridate / Hager, Schreier, Moser, Auger, Et Al
    Label: Opera D'oro   Catalog: 1361 Release Date: 08/06/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Performer:  Arleen Augér,  Helen Watts,  Pilar Lorengar,  Peter Baillie  ... 
    Conductor:  Leopold Hager
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra
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  • 56.
    Bach: Magnificat, Easter Oratorio / Munchinger
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 466420 Release Date: 05/08/2002   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Hanneke van Bork,  Werner Krenn,  Elly Ameling,  Tom Krause  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Münchinger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Academy Choir,  Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
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  • 57.
    Handel: Sosarme / Lewis, Deller, Watts, Herbert, Et Al
    Label: Opera D'oro   Catalog: 1319 Release Date: 10/30/2001   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Ian Wallace,  Alfred Deller,  William Herbert,  Nancy Evans  ... 
    Conductor:  Anthony Lewis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Anthony Singers,  Santa Cecilia Chamber Orchestra
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  • 58.
    British Composers - Vaughan Williams: Riders To The Sea
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 64730 Release Date: 01/09/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams
    Performer:  David Waterman,  Philip Langridge,  Andrew Watkinson,  James Clark  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir David Willcocks,  Meredith Davies
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet,  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Bach Choir  ... 
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  • 59.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 50 - Cantatas Bwv 165-168 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92050 Release Date: 07/25/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Verena Gohl-Müller,  Nancy Burns,  Theo Altmeyer,  Siegmund Nimsgern  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Kantorei,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Stuttgart Gedächtniskirche Figuralchor  ... 
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  • 60.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 52 - Cantatas Bwv 172-175 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92052 Release Date: 07/25/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Carolyn Watkinson,  Peter Schreier,  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Julia Hamari  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn  ... 
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  • 61.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 56 - Cantatas Bwv 185-187 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92056 Release Date: 07/25/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Hildegard Laurich,  Wolfgang Schöne,  Maria Friesenhausen,  Philippe Huttenlocher  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Frankfurt Kantorei
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  • 62.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 57 - Cantatas Bwv 188, 190-192
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92057 Release Date: 07/25/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helen Donath,  Niklaus Tüller,  Adalbert Kraus,  Nobuko Yamamoto  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn
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  • 63.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 39 - Cantatas Bwv 122-125 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92039 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Wolfgang Schöne,  Marga Höffgen,  Kurt Equiluz,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Gedächtniskirche Figuralchor,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart  ... 
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  • 64.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 40 - Cantatas Bwv 126-129 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92040 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Arleen Augér,  Gabriele Schreckenbach,  Aldo Baldin  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
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  • 65.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 41 - Cantatas Bwv 130-132 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92041 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Kurt Equiluz,  Wolfgang Schöne,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Stuttgart Gedächtniskirche Figuralchor,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
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  • 66.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 42 - Cantatas Bwv 133-135 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92042 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Hans-Joachim Erhard,  Hedda Rothweiler,  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Adalbert Kraus  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
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  • 67.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 43 - Cantatas Bwv 136-139 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92043 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Inga Nielsen,  Helen Watts,  Philippe Huttenlocher  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
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  • 68.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 44 - Cantatas Bwv 140, 143-145
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92044 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Andreas Schmidt,  Constanza Cuccaro,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn,  Frankfurt Kantorei  ... 
    CD: $17.99
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  • 69.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 45 - Cantatas Bwv 146-147 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92045 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Arleen Augér,  Helen Watts,  Kurt Equiluz,  Wolfgang Schöne  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Frankfurt Kantorei,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium
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  • 70.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 46 - Cantatas Bwv 148-151 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92046 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Nobuko Yamamoto,  Hildegard Laurich,  Adalbert Kraus,  Hanns-Friedrich Kunz  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Frankfurt Kantorei,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
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  • 71.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 49 - Cantatas Bwv 161-164 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92049 Release Date: 06/27/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Helen Watts,  Arleen Augér,  Niklaus Tüller  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Frankfurt Kantorei
    CD: $17.99
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  • 72.
    Bach - Musica Sacra: The 4 Missa Breves, Etc
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 466754 Release Date: 06/01/2000   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Werner Krenn,  Tom Krause,  Elly Ameling  ... 
    Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet,  Richard Hickox
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra,  Richard Hickox Singers,  Richard Hickox Orchestra
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  • 73.
    Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass / Willcocks, King's College Choir
    Label: London/Decca Legends   Catalog: 458623 Release Date: 03/14/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn,  Antonio Vivaldi,  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Sylvia Stahlman,  Simon Preston,  Tom Krause,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir David Willcocks
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge King's College Choir,  London Symphony Orchestra,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields  ... 
    Recommendation
    CD: $12.99
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  • 74.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 37 - Cantatas Bwv 115-117 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92037 Release Date: 02/29/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Mechthild Georg,  Adalbert Kraus,  Andreas Schmidt,  Philippe Huttenlocher  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium
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  • 75.
    Mahler: Symphony No 2
    Label: Vox Da Capo   Catalog: 7213 Release Date: 02/29/2000   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Gustav Mahler
    Performer:  Felicity Lott,  Helen Watts
    Conductor:  Harold Farberman
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brighton Festival Chorus,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    CD: $11.99
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