The Independent and Independent on Sunday are giving you the opportunity to experience the opera. In association with The Royal Opera we are offering you 2 tickets for the price of 1 to the Autumn and Winter 1997/98 season. You can choose to see any of three productions - The Merry Widow, The Barber of Seville and Paul Bunyan all showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

How to Qualify

For each 2 for 1 ticket application simply collect 3 tokens from the Independent and Independent on Sunday (tokens will be printed every day until Friday 28 November) and telephone The Royal Opera House box office on either 0171 304 4000 or 0171 379 5399(lines are open between 10am and 7pm)identifying yourself as an Independent reader. If paying by credit card you will be asked to hand in your tokens when you collect your tickets. If paying by cheque please enclose your three tokens (you will be advised of the address when booking). You may apply twice for the offer, collecting 3 tokens per application.

Paul Bunyan

Offer available 10 11 13 15 17 December

Ticket Prices: pounds 48.50, pounds 39, pounds 36, pounds 32, pounds 18.50

Paul Bunyan is an American folk hero of gigantic height who became the greatest lumberjack in history, or so legend says. His work sites, and his fights, created geographical wonders like the Grand Canyon and the Rockies. These tall stories about a new country appealed to two young Englishmen in exile in wartime America - Benjamin Britten and the poet W. H. Auden.

Bunyan's adventures are an allegory of the development of virgin North America in the pioneer days. Auden loved both Shakespeare's Prospero and the Christian God. His Bunyan (who speaks but never appears) is both of these, with a touch of Moses thrown in. There's rich comedy too, as Auden writes roles for trees, geese, dogs, cats, bicycling boys and taciturn Swedish loggers.

Paul Bunyan was a first opera for Britten, but it's no early work. The music has all the range of Auden's witty verse and Bunyan's multi-national workforce. You hear an American blues alongside parodies of 19th-century Italian opera and G & S. There's a stirring role for the chorus. And the central battle between intellectual Johnny Inkslinger (the brains of Bunyan's camp) and foreman Hel Helson (the brawn) clearly looks forward to Peter Grimes - just four years in the future.

The Merry Widow

Offer available 31 December 1 2 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 January

Ticket prices: pounds 65, pounds 58, pounds 56, pounds 51, pounds 30.

Like The Barber of Seville, The Merry Widow is a first. Most operettas are about sex and money, but few as provocatively as Lehar's. The story takes place in embassy circles in turn of the century Paris. It discusses the affairs of a romantic little princedom fit to rival Rudolf Rassendyl's Ruritania in The Prisoner of Zenda (book and operetta are near contemporaries). Its music is awash with gorgeous tunes - and wonderful dances - evoking middle-European folklore, written with the skill of a Richard Strauss or Puccini (more contemporaries). The very word `operetta' means escapism - usually.

But what's best about the Widow is its realism. Its heroine has been married before for all the worst reasons - on the rebound from an unhappy affair, and for money. Its hero met the heroine before and rejected her for all the worst reasons - family pressure, and money - and then went off on a seriously naughty bender in Paris. He loves her, but can't bring himself to say it. Meanwhile, everyone else in sight is bending over backwards to be unfaithful. It's realistic, it's funny and it's sad. This perfect theatrical combination gave Lehar a monster hit in Vienna, Paris, London and New York.

The Barber of Seville

Offer available on 7 10 12 14 February

Ticket prices: pounds 75, pounds 66, pounds 62, pounds 57, pounds 33.

The Barber of Seville is the first modern comic opera. Rossini was the star composer of an era when opera moved out of aristocratic circles into boulevard theatres. His comic skill was praised by Beethoven and imitated by Schubert . He believed his audiences would laugh at what they could recognise. He chose a hit French play by Beaumarchais, a controversial writer whose work had scandalised the old order in France before the Revolution.

In this play, the professional classes and the young outsmart the aristocracy and the old. Rossini kept the play's title, plot, scenes and sharpest lines. Unusual - because comic operas often sweeten their subject beyond recognition. Rossini avoided this cliche. He has the cunning young girl, the greedy old lecher who wants to marry her, the wily servant with the keys to the house and the `poor' young man hanging around who's really a prince. They're classic characters from commedia dell'arte who have been around from Shakespeare to television sitcom. Rossini's music defines all of them without caricature and makes them available to any age.

Terms and Conditions

To qualify for the offer applicants must collect three differently numbered tokens. Tokens are published every day between November 22 and November 28. Only the tokens printed in The Independent and Independent on Sunday are valid. Photocopies or any other reproductions will not be accepted. The offer is for 2 tickets for the price of 1 for each application. Each set of three tokens collected allows you to take advantage of the 2 for 1 offer. The free ticket may only have a value equal to or less than the purchased ticket. This offer is only valid for the three productions mentioned above. The Royal Opera House standard terms and conditions of purchase apply to this offer. The offer is subject to availability. No cash alternitives will be accepted. The promoters are The Independent and The Royal Opera House.