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 76-100 of 111 Available Recordings
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  • 76.
    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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  • 77.
    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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  • 78.
    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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  • 79.
    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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  • 80.
    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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  • 81.
    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
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  • 82.
    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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  • 83.
    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  ... 
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    CD: $12.99
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  • 84.
    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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  • 85.
    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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  • 86.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 27 - Cantatas Bwv 83-86 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92027 Release Date: 10/19/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Helen Watts,  Walter Heldwein,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn
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  • 87.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 28 - Cantatas Bwv 87-90 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92028 Release Date: 10/19/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Helen Watts,  Siegmund Nimsgern,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Stuttgart Gedächtniskirche Figuralchor
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  • 88.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 31 - Cantatas Bwv 97-99 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92031 Release Date: 10/19/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  John Bröcheler,  Helen Watts,  Arleen Augér,  Lutz-Michael Harder  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium
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  • 89.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 1 - Cantatas Bwv 1-3 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92001 Release Date: 07/13/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Inga Nielsen,  Gabriele Schreckenbach,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart,  Stuttgart Bach Collegium
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  • 90.
    Edition Bachakademie Vol 8 - Cantatas Bwv 23-26 / Rilling
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 92008 Release Date: 07/13/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Adalbert Kraus,  Philippe Huttenlocher,  Doris Soffel,  Arleen Augér  ... 
    Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Bach Collegium,  Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
    CD: $17.99
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  • 91.
    Bach: Cantatas No 80 And 11 / Somary, Palmer, Watts, Et Al
    Label: Vanguard   Catalog: 105 Release Date: 01/26/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Felicity Palmer,  Robert Tear,  Michael Rippon,  Helen Watts
    Conductor:  Johannes Somary
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  Amor Artis Chorale
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 92.
    British Composers - Elgar: The Music Makers, The Dream Of Gerontius / Boult
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 66540 Release Date: 01/12/1999   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar
    Performer:  Dame Janet Baker,  Helen Watts,  Robert Lloyd,  Nicolai Gedda
    Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Chorus,  John Alldis Choir  ... 
    CD: $21.99
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  • 93.
    Haydn: Masses / Guest, Preston
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 458376 Release Date: 09/09/1998   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn,  Michael Haydn
    Performer:  Helen Watts,  Robert Tear,  Jennifer Smith,  Benjamin Luxon  ... 
    Conductor:  George Guest,  Simon Preston
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Cambridge St John's College Choir,  Oxford Christ Church Cathedral Choir  ... 
    Recommendation
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  • 94.
    J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach: Magnificats; Scarlatti: Cecilia Mass / Ledger, Guest
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 458370 Release Date: 09/07/1998   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach,  Alessandro Scarlatti,  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Felicity Palmer,  Stephen Roberts,  Robert Tear,  Helen Watts  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger,  George Guest
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge King's College Choir,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,  Cambridge St John's College Choir  ... 
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  • 95.
    Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen / Solti, Vienna Philharmonic
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 455555 Release Date: 10/14/1997   Number of Discs: 14
    Composer:  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  Helga Dernesch,  Berit Lindholm,  Marilyn Tyler,  Vera Schlosser  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vienna State Opera Chorus
    Recommendation
    CD: $181.49
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  • 96.
    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
    CD: $79.99
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  • 97.
    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
    CD: $72.99
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  • 98.
    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:  Wilfred Brown,  Helen Watts,  Sylvia Stahlman,  Simon Preston  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir David Willcocks,  George Guest
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  Cambridge King's College Choir,  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields  ... 
    CD: $19.99
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  • 99.
    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
    Recommendation
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  • 100.
    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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