The American soprano, Helen Donath (née Erwin), stemmed from a family originally Armenian-Syrian. When she was 14, she started studying at the Corpus Christi College and continued her studies with Paola Nivikova, in New York (the famous singing teacher whose pupils include outstanding singers as Nicolai Gedda).
Helen Donath debuted very early (1958) as a concert and Lieder singer in New York. In 1961 she came to Europe and became a member of the Opernstudio in Cologne until 1963, during which time she sang roles as Liu in Turandot, Julia in Blacher’s Romeo und Julia, and Micaela in Carmen. In 1961 she became a member of Staatstheater Hannover (the Hanover Opera House), to which she belonged until 1968, and had great success as Pamina in Zauberflöte and as Jeanne in Die Vorlobung in San Domingo. There she married the Kapellmeister and choir coach Klaus Donath. Appearances followed in Spain, Austria, Holland, Switzerland and England. In 1966 she signed a contract with the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, for guest performances, and a great career developed, not only on the opera stage, but also in the concert hall.
Helen Donath's international career in effect began in 1967, when she sang Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at the Salzburg Festival with great success, returning next year in the same role. She was often to be heard in the Salzburg Festival from 1967 to 1976, both in Mozart operas and in Lieder evenings and in oratorios and concerts. In 1967 she sang the soprano part in the Coronation Mass by Mozart, which was performed in the Vatican under the direction of Herbert von Karajan; appeared at the Edinburgh Festival also under the his baton in the Bach Magnificat (BWV 243) and also performed Felix Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall. She was a regular member of the Vienna Staatsoper from 1970-1990. She sang in Don Giovanni, Freischütz, Rosenkavalier, and Meistersinger. Finally in 1991 she sang at the Metropolitan Opera.
Helen Donath has appeared at La Scala, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin Staatsoper, the Dresden Opera, Hamburg Staatsoper, the Metropolitan Opera, and in Paris, Tokyo, and throughout the USA.
Her recent (2004) American engagements have included performances as Despina in Così fan tutte, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Eva in Die Meistersinger, the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro in Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. Recently, in Detroit, she performed another of her signature roles, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, with her husband, conductor-pianist Klaus Donath, on the podium, and their son, Alexander Donath, as stage director.
Helen Donath is known as an excellent interpreter of Lied in which she was accompanied by her husband, the pianist and conductor, Klaus Donath, on the piano. She was internationally renowned as an oratorio singer, and sang many of the soprano parts in Helmuth Rilling's early recordings of the Bach Cantatas.
Helen Donath can be heard in her lyric soprano voice, which also included a series of parts in the coloratura repertoire, on many record labels. On Decca (Orpheus of Gluck, the page Oscar in Verdi's Ballo in Maschera, Sophie in Rosenkavalier, Freischütz, Lustige Weiber von Windsor by Nicolai), HMW (Don Giovanni, Meistersinger), Telefunken (Incoronozione di Poppea), Phillips (La finta Giardiniera, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Haydn's La vera constanza, Benjamin Britten's The Return of the Screw, Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248), DGG (Pfitzner's Palestrina, Mozart's Lucio Silla, Lustiger Weiber von Windsor, Messiah), Electrola (Fidelio, Gluck's Der betrogener Kadi, Schubert's Die Zwillingsbrüder, Strauss' Arabella, Kienzl's Der Evangelmann, Schubert's Der vierjähriger Posten, Lehár's Friederike, George Frideric Handel's Judas Maccabeus), Teldec (F. Mendelssohn's Elias), Eurodisc (Zauberflöte, Carmen, Engelbert Humperdinck Hänsel u. Gretel, Puccini's Gianni Schicchi), Cantate (spiritual music), Orfeo (Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice, Mozart's La finta simplice), Wergo (Paul Hindemith's Sancta Susanna, Hartmann's Simplicius Simplicissimus), RCA (Nozze di Figaro), Schwannn (Wolf's Der Corregidor), CBS, Arcanta (Mozart arias), Voce (von Flotow's Alessandro Stradella).