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Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Nuns and Roses II


Genre: A Cappella, Music

Venue: St Andrew’s and St George’s West


Low Down

Amazing variety in terms of repertoire and superb vocal dexterity makes this female quintet the real crème de la crème of a cappella.


Back at the Fringe with a brand-new show, the five voices that form Papagena paraded their unique brand of a cappella to the delight of a crowded St Andrew’s and St George’s West.  The church venue and acoustics play right into the hands of this extraordinarily gifted quintet, their voices reverberating around the semi-circular arena, never more so when the five swapped the stage for positions amongst the audience, all whilst singing in perfect time and harmony.

What makes the three sopranos and two altos of Papagena stand out in the rather crowded a cappella space is their range, in terms of their individual voices, the genres of music they sing, the languages in which they sing it and the arrangements they use. This year we had a programme that spanned a millenium, including medieval music from that renowned polymath Hildegard of Bingen through to The Woman’s IF, that wonderfully humorous poem by Caitlin Moran set to music by the genius that is Jim Clements.  Apparently the ink is not yet dry on this one, the notes having arrived just a couple of days before their first Fringe concert.

The Woman’s IF was part of a trilogy of ‘frustrated’ love songs which also comprised a witty arrangement of Jack’s Valentine from Libby Larsen and a very clever setting of Sigh No More, Ladies (from Much Ado About Nothing) by Jetse Bremer.  And the international flavour continued with pieces that originated in Sarajevo, Italy, Russia, Norway and Finland.  There was even a nod to their home for the next few performances with a superbly crafted rendition of My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. 

The quality and range of vocal harmonies that this group conjure up is impressive.  Not only can they sing with complete clarity in a variety of languages (including English, just in case you were wondering) but they have the linguistic grasp to convey the subtle nuances of the song they’re singing, so they tell a story with the music, rather than just singing at the audience. And no single voice dominates which ensures that the exquisite harmonies that feature in many of the arrangements can be appreciated to their full extent.

Quite how it was all stitched together I still can’t quite work out, despite having seen them a couple of years ago.  Conducting seemed to be done by telepathy and just an occasional twitch of an eyebrow on the part of one of the singers.  And pitch perfect starting notes also seemed to appear out of the ether as if by magic.  Magic – that just about sums up the whole afternoon.  Highly recommended.