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 149 Available Recordings
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  • 51.
    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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  • 52.
    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
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  • 53.
    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
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  • 54.
    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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  • 55.
    Haydn: Schöpfungsmesse;  Mozart: Spaur-messe / George Guest
    Label: London/Decca Jubilee   Catalog: 430161 Release Date: 06/25/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Performer:  Robert Tear,  Helen Watts,  April Cantelo,  Felicity Palmer  ... 
    Conductor:  George Guest
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Wren Orchestra,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
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  • 56.
    Handel: Messiah (Complete)
    Label: Philips   Catalog: 464703 Release Date: 06/12/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  John Shirley-Quirk,  John Wakefield,  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper
    Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  London Symphony Chorus
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  • 57.
    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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  • 58.
    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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  • 59.
    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
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  • 60.
    Essential Choral Classics
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000691802 Release Date: 06/13/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Joseph Brackett,  Gioachino Rossini,  Gustav Mahler,  Gabriel Fauré  ... 
    Performer:  Mirella Freni,  Lucia Valentini-Terrani,  Ruggero Raimondi,  Luciano Pavarotti  ... 
    Conductor:  Jerold Ottley,  Romano Gandolfi,  Sir Georg Solti,  George Guest  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mormon Tabernacle Choir,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus,  Vienna Concert-Verein  ... 
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  • 61.
    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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  • 62.
    Britten Conducts Britten Vol 3
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000639602 Release Date: 05/16/2006   Number of Discs: 10
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Bryan Drake,  John Shirley-Quirk,  Robert Tear,  Peter Pears  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten,  George Malcolm,  Norman Del Mar,  Russell Burgess
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Opera Group Orchestra,  English Chamber Group,  Alleyn's School Choir  ... 
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  • 63.
    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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  • 64.
    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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  • 65.
    Original Masters - Leopold Stokowski Vol 2
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000394902 Release Date: 02/08/2005   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Alexander Borodin,  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  Modest Mussorgsky,  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov  ... 
    Performer:  Erich Gruenberg,  Alexander Young,  Donald McIntyre,  Heather Harper  ... 
    Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera Chorus,  Royal Philharmonic Chorus,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 66.
    Mozart: Coronation Mass, Vesperae solennes de confessore, etc / Marriner, et al
    Label: Eloquence   Catalog: 4701662 Release Date: 08/16/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Performer:  Philip Langridge,  Felicity Palmer,  Margaret Cable,  Stephen Roberts  ... 
    Conductor:  George Guest,  Sir Neville Marriner
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir,  Wren Orchestra,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields  ... 
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  • 67.
    Williams: The Dancers, Etc / Hickox, Harrhy, Watts, Et Al
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 9617 Release Date: 02/03/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Grace Williams
    Performer:  Caryl Thomas,  Eiddwen Harrhy,  John Heley,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Richard Hickox
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Richard Hickox Singers,  City of London Sinfonia,  City of London Sinfonia members
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  • 68.
    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
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  • 69.
    Hector Berlioz - Romantic Spirit
    Label: Universal   Catalog: 000044402 Release Date: 07/01/2003   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Hector Berlioz
    Performer:  Thomas Allen,  Robert Lloyd,  Christiane Eda-Pierre,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis,  Claudio Abbado,  Charles Dutoit,  Pierre Monteux  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  John Alldis Choir,  European Community Youth Orchestra  ... 
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  • 70.
    Handel: Messiah (Highlights) / Leppard, Et Al
    Label: Apex   Catalog: 48726 Release Date: 05/20/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Ryland Davies,  Helen Watts,  Felicity Palmer,  John Shirley-Quirk
    Conductor:  Raymond Leppard
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  English Chamber Orchestra Choir
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  • 71.
    British Composers - Delius: A Mass Of Life, Songs Of Sunset
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 64218 Release Date: 09/10/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Frederick Delius
    Performer:  Benjamin Luxon,  Robert Tear,  Helen Watts,  Heather Harper  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Charles Groves
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir,  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 72.
    Strauss: Elektra / Solti, Nilsson, Resnik, Collier, Krause
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 417345 Release Date: 09/10/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Richard Strauss
    Performer:  Margarete Sjösted,  Tugomir Franc,  Birgit Nilsson,  Regina Resnik  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 73.
    Vaughan Williams: Sir John In Love / Davies, Herincx
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 66123 Release Date: 09/10/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams
    Performer:  Robert Lloyd,  Helen Watts,  Raimund Herincx,  Elisabeth Bainbridge  ... 
    Conductor:  Meredith Davies
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Philharmonia Orchestra
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  • 74.
    Bach: Cantatas / Rilling, Amini, Auger, Et Al
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 94028 Release Date: 08/27/2002   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Aldo Baldin,  Arleen Augér,  Gabriele Schreckenbach  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium  ... 
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  • 75.
    Bach: Easter Cantatas / Rilling, Bach Ensemble
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 94027 Release Date: 08/27/2002   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Adalbert Kraus,  Julia Hamari,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Frankfurt Kantorei  ... 
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