Helen Watts (7 December 1927 – 7 October 2009) was a Welsh contralto.
Helen Josephine Watts was born in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, Wales. Her father was a pharmacist. She was educated at Taskers School for Girls in Haverfordwest, the Abbots Bromley School for Girls and at the Royal Academy of Music.
She began her career with the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, and was a regular broadcaster on the Welsh Home Service. She subsequently had a distinguished career as an opera singer. She sang Bach arias at her debut at The Proms, in 1955. She toured the Soviet Union with the English Opera Group in 1964, singing the lead in The Rape of Lucretia. She was also known for her 1969 performances as Mistress Quickly in Verdi’s Falstaff with the Welsh National Opera. In 1969, her voice was described by a critic as “not particularly large, but the general purity and warmth of its tone gives it a direct, communicative power. And the singer uses it with taste and imagination.”
The many recordings by Helen Watts included a “monumental” edition of forty Bach cantatas, with Helmuth Rilling conducting the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart. She also made multiple recordings as a soloist in Handel’s Messiah, various roles in Wagner’s Ring cycle, and an album of Welsh songs with the Treorchy male voice choir. She was asked to choose her favorite recording, book, and luxury as a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1970. They were: Favourite track: Betrachte Meine Seele, from the St. John Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach; Book: Illustrated book on gardening; Luxury: Velasquez, The Maids of Honour, (Las Meninas) in the Prado.
In 1978 she was awarded the CBE.
Photo credit: Contralto Corner and Gramophone
Helen Watts married Michael Mitchell, a viola player with the London Symphony Orchestra, in 1980. Mitchell died in 2007. Watts died on 7 October 2009 at the age of 81
Photo credit: Bach Cantata Website