Georg Frideric Handel


2 July – 22 August 2011
Glyndebourne Festival 2011

Following on from productions of Theodora, Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, Glyndebourne continues to celebrate the genius of Handel with its first staging of Rinaldo, the work with which he made his sensational London debut – and the first Italian opera specifically created for the British stage.

Loosely based on Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata – an already wildly fantastical fictionalisation of the Christian ‘liberation’ of Jerusalem during the First Crusade – Rinaldo was consciously intended to marry the new style of aria-led Italian opera seria with the spectacular scenic effects favoured by such native English ‘semi-operas’ as Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. As a result, Rinaldo not only boasts one of Handel’s most richly enticing scores but is also, as the Spectator put it after the premiere in 1711, ‘filled with Thunder and Lightning, Illuminations, and Fireworks’.

Directed by Robert Carsen, who made his Festival debut with L’incoronazione di Poppea in 2008, Rinaldo is conducted by Ottavio Dantone, Music Director of the acclaimed Italian period ensemble Accademia Bizantina. The cast is headed by Sonia Prina in the title-role of the heroic crusader, with Sandrine Piau as his beloved Almirena, Brenda Rae as the seductive Saracen sorceress Armida, and Luca Pisaroni (last summer’s Leporello) as her duplicitous ally Argante, the King of Jerusalem.

A new production for the 2011 Festival.
Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

This new production is generously supported by Carol and Paul Collins, through Glyndebourne Association America Inc.

Listen to the Rinaldo podcast (14 mins)

Director Robert Carsen and Dramaturg Ian Burton talk to James Whitbourn about Handel's Rinaldo.

Edition by David R. Kimbell by arrangement with Bärenreiter-Edition, Kassel and Faber Music Ltd, London

Setting: During the first Crusade

Act I

Goffredo, helped by his brother Eustazio, is leading the Crusader army in its siege of Jerusalem. Goffredo’s daughter Almirena is loved by the knight Rinaldo. Goffredo tells Rinaldo that he may marry his daughter if he is victorious in battle. A herald announces the approach of Argante, general of the enemy Saracen army. Argante requests a three-day truce, to which Goffredo assents. Alone, Argante waits for his lover Armida, the powerful sorceress and Saracen Queen. She appears and informs Argante that their only chance of victory lies in depriving the Christian forces of Rinaldo’s support. She herself is prepared to undertake this task.

Rinaldo and Almirena reaffirm their love. Suddenly, Armida and her forces attack them and abduct Almirena. Goffredo and Eustazio arrive. When the distraught Rinaldo tells them what has happened, Eustazio suggests that the Christian Magus will be able to help them. Rinaldo leads them all in their mission to rescue Almirena.

Short interval of 25 minutes

Act II

Near a lake, Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo are struggling to find the Christian Magus, when suddenly a beautiful woman appears in a boat. She promises Rinaldo that she will lead him to Almirena. To his companions’ dismay, Rinaldo impulsively jumps on board, and the boat vanishes.

Almirena is now Armida’s captive. She is guarded by Argante, who confesses that he has fallen in love with her. He promises that he will defy Armida and free Almirena if she returns his love, but she rejects him.

Rinaldo, now also a captive, is brought before Armida. He angrily demands that Almirena be set free. Against her will, Armida finds herself falling in love with her enemy. She attempts to seduce him by magically transforming herself into Almirena. Rinaldo, suspecting trickery, rejects her.

Argante now appears and, mistaking the transformed Armida for Almirena, repeats his earlier declarations of love. Armida, outraged by his infidelity, vows vengeance and departs in fury.

Dinner interval of approximately 85 minutes


Goffredo and Eustazio finally find the Christian Magus, who gives them the magic powers they need to enter Armida’s palace unharmed.

Armida is about to kill Almirena. Rinaldo, still a prisoner, is powerless to prevent her, when suddenly Goffredo and Eustazio come to the captives’ aid. Goffredo, Almirena and Rinaldo rejoice at being finally reunited.

Argante and Armida, now reconciled, prepare their troops. Goffredo’s army also advances, led by Rinaldo, and the battle commences. The Crusaders are victorious. Rinaldo and Almirena celebrate their love, while Armida and Argante accept their defeat. Goffredo forgives the enemy and sets them free, as they all join in a chorus of reconciliation.

Robert Carsen

Creative team

Conductor Ottavio Dantone
Director Robert Carsen
Designer Gideon Davey
Lighting designer Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet
Movement director Philippe Giraudeau
Dramaturg Ian Burton

Cast includes

Rinaldo Sonia Prina
Goffredo Varduhi Abrahamyan
Eustazio Tim Mead
Almirena Anett Fritsch / Miriam Khalil (9 July)
Armida Brenda Rae
Argante Luca Pisaroni / Riccardo Novaro (17 and 21 July)
A Christian Magician William Towers

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Audio files: 

Audio extracts courtesy of Decca.

This recording is available to buy from the Glyndebourne Shop.

Brenda Rae as Armida and Luca Pisaroni as Argante in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Anett Fritsch as Almirena in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Brenda Rae as Armida, Glyndebourne Chorus and dancers in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
William Towers as Christian Magus, Glyndebourne Chorus and dancers in the 2011 production Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Sonia Prina as Rinaldo and Brenda Rae as Armida in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Sonia Prina as Rinaldo in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
The 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
The 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Tim Mead as Eustazio in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper


You asked for my opinion and here it is! Is there any way, before next year's productions, of finding out who the directors are or what kind of productions we are going to get? Our problem is that we book so early in advance that we do not know.
We thought the production was quite appalling. It was absolute rubbish. It really was a missed opportunity to do one of Handel's operas well, and one which had never before been done at Glyndebourne. There was therefore no need to change it out of all recognition. We also thought that Rinaldo his/herself was not nearly good enough for the standards we usually get at Glyndebourne but perhaps he/she ws just having a bad night. Please do not put it on again as there is no way it can be "tweaked" to improve it. You successfully "tweaked" Don Giovanni, but not this.
At the other end of the spectrum, we thought Die Meistersingers was absolutely wonderful, and one of the best operas ever staged by you.

Robert Carsen does an outstanding job of helping take opera into the future by creating an innovative, modern, clever and unexpected interpretation.
I would go to see anything he creates.
Kudos to Glyndebourne for supporting a fresh artistic vision. Well done!

Saw the opera last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Superb music, inventive staging ... and seriously good fun. Congrats to Glyndebourne for yet another fabulous production.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. The music and singing was as good as usual (some bits better than others).But even though I tried to keep an open mind about the production (having been warned by my 30 year old daughter that it was appalling) the final act was just too much. I shall guard against se3eing anything more from Mr Carsen.

Not being a Handel opera lover, but appreciating many of his arias, I enjoyed the evening very much - a fresh, logical and convincing interpretation, an excellent orchestra and wonderful voices (on the whole) - what can one expect more?

Even the rain on that evening didn't change much, as the first interval at least gave the chance to stroll around the gardens.

I can see that bicycles are both cheaper and easier than horses, but expecting the audience to dress up should not accompany the cast dressing down, even when the singing is absolutely magnificent and the acting as good as one might hope. The music of the composer and the words of the librettist should not be strained by an alien production strategy, however keen may be the producer to stamp his ego on our minds. I appreciate that the modern audience can tolerate these discrepancies sufficiently easily for the producers to think that they are doing well, however I think that a convincing reproduction of the original intentions of composer and librettist would succeed even better.

This is my second attempt to get through. I thought Rinaldo was superb, an audacious update that really works. How verstile a modern opera chorus has to be these days, able to act and dance to the sama hig standard. My only slight misgivings concern the OAE. They achieve that essential sound and are no doubt brilliant in a smaller hall. However, even in Glyndebourne's medium sized and intimate theatre, they are sometimes underpowered and and lack penetration. I believe GFH himself would be quite happy with modern instruments and a bigger orchestra, as indeed I would. This comment does not detract from another excellent and exciting occasion

The music was sublime but the production was puerile and absurd. I enjoy imaginative productions but this was self- indulgent experimentation at the expense of opera goers who pay a lot of money for tickets for themselves and their guests.

Our party of 6 (which included a couple who are under 25, so not all old fogeys) all thought that the production was dire. Carsten's Poppea in 2008 came off quite well (although not up to the standard of Giulio Cesare). By way of comparison we didn't care much for the recent Alden school playground production of Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the ENO but it made more sense than this one.
We are glad that we attended the pre-performance talk which gave us an excellent insight into the work and put it into its historical context - but tellingly didn't make any reference to the Monty Pythonesque, "lets play it for laughs" and incoherent production that we were about to see.
What has a slightly dim witted pudgy schoolboy's fantasy about a gawky schoolgirl and a dominatrix teacher got to do with this opera?
The choreography and stage direction were also poor - especially the silly "ball game" at the end. And how misguided to have Armida singing "Ah,crudel" at the back of the stage facing the wall!
Shame, the music was often sublime and the principal voices and the orchestra were well up to Glyndebourne standard. I hope to see the opera again at the Proms - in a concert performance.

Very interesting but perhaps not surprising that this production has so divided Glyndebourne audiences. It would be interesting to know a breakdown by age and gender of these responses. For the record my wife and I are in our seventies and well remember as far back as The Electrification of the Soviet Union (see earlier comment) which we did not enjoy - but this production of Rinaldo we thought great fun and hugely enjoyable. I expect the recent ROH production of Anna Nicolle would elicit similar reponses from the same contributors to this blog.

The music was wonderful, the production rubbish.

Interesting how the comments divide so completely into pros and antis, but I suppose people who feel relatively indifferent do not post comments. Mine is in the category of why mess with such wonderful music and make a joke of it in such an infantile way? Our enjoyment of the evening was further compromised by not being able to see large parts of the action because so much of it took part at the rear of the stage, or to the extreme stage right - we were sitting on the red side of the auditorium. Directors must make sure that their production can be seen by a large proportion of the audience - we all pay our money, and expect to be able to see, (and we can't all afford the expensive seats!)

Our party of 6 loved the performance and the experience more than made up for the appalling weather on 17th July. The music was fantastic, true to the period and many arias moved me almost to tears. We thought Tim Mead had a wonderful counter tenor voice strong and confident and Anett Fritsch was very moving and clear.
Altogether an unusual production but one that challenged and enlightened. A fantastic mix of technology and flair.

After a slow and rather confusing first Act we wondered how many would leave. However, I hope they stayed to see the whole production get into full swing. The music and orchestra were superb. The school setting was inspired and I can only assume the production team started with the scoring of the final goal and worked backwards. The two highlights were the football match, which was so well choreographed, and the sirens. Overall a most amusing and entertaining evening - I now would like to see it again with opened eyes! My only slight criticism would be that Rinaldo, although having a wonderful voice, did not quite cut the romantic figure I felt he should have!

I nearly walked out after the first act, with the childish, inappropriate, tricksy production, not a patch on Giulio Cesare which was also transplanted in time. But I am glad I stayed because the music was of the very highest standard. I will avoid this producer's work in future, and hope that we don't have to put up with a revival in a couple of years.
However, with my eyes shut, the music was superb.

I loathed this juvenile and self-indulgent production. The integrity of story and music was lost and vulgarised. It was about Carsen not Handel. The glorious singing and playing of the orchestra were subjugated to his glorification. If an adolescent boy were to have such a dream, it is not unlikely that it would be pornographic. There is an ironic integrity in that, but indulge yourself only via your own, original, ab initio creation Mr Director,and find the intelligence and sensitivity to draw the pure essence out of other people's.

I had my eyes closed most of the time, and thus enjoyed the evening. It is splendid music - especially Lascia ch'io pianga, which is rightly included in lollipop selctions - well sung, and beautifully played, especially the recorders and the brass - but the production was the silliest, most self-indulgent that I have seen for years. We had guests, otherwise we should have left before the end.

Fab performance. Opera was written to entertain and so it did with this production. Clever and amusing.

Three of us came to see RINALDO the day after seeing DON G. and after reading some press notices were somewhat dreading it BUT we thought those reviews were unfair and we absolutely enjoyed our evening. The way it was staged (as it were through the eyes of a school production) was terrific and we believed that if Handel were there to see it he would have approved and enjoyed himself as much as we did. The singing was wonderful and the orchestra was terrific - I could easily see it again as I did with the production of Julio Cesare.

The singing and musicianship and the playing of the orchestra was fantastic. The production did not add anything to it although I found it enjoyable and amusing. The sets and lighting were , in usual Glyndebourne tradition, were magnificant. I would recommend this production. Just one final point, to sing on the Glyndebourne stage must be a daunting experience but to do so whilst pedalling a bicycle and being suspended in mid air is worthy of the highest praise.

Our party of 4, Glyndebourne supporters for decades and of adventurous taste (anyone else recall The Electrification of the Soviet Union?), could make no sense of this production. After Theodora and Rodelinda, it was a huge disappointment to watch a wonderful cast and orchestra squandered on a vanity project of spectacular banality and apalling taste.

Everyone in our group found it to be very enjoyable. In my case, even as a newcomer (not having benefited from the more traditional presentation of RINALDO), I found it to be spectacular!

We loved this production. The tongue-in-cheek approach and stunning sets engaged us in what could have been a trite story. We are relative newcomers to opera and to Glyndebourne and have recommended the production to others because it was refreshing, it connected with us and it was visually and aurally beautiful.

Regrettably, we were also mainly in the , " lovely music, shame about the production" camp. ( July 9th). I notice that someone liked the flying bike, what what did it add other than a music hall level gimmick?
However, a good season in general and I am not against experimentation, but this did not have the depth that we come to expect and love.
By the way, why are so many comments anonymous? We are ( mostly, I presume), members of a music society and should share our views openly.

I attended the performance on 9 July. The music was splendid, and generally very well sung and played, but I was very disappointed in the production, which I found, above all, rather silly. By the end of Act 3 I had eventually got the point of the director's idea, but I was left asking "why?". I did not see Handel's Rinaldo, but Robert Carsen's Rinaldo, and I felt rather short-changed as a result.

The rest of my group agreed with me, and I think quite a lot of the audience did so too. I am a Glyndebourne regular, and I know well how, after the dinner interval, audiences are more willing to applaud and cheer at almost any opportunity. But tonight, we applauded less and less, so that there were several occasions when, after a singer had done his/her stuff and left the stage, there was - silence. And it was striking that the orchestra got the biggest cheer. It was probably as well that the director did take a bow that night.

I note some comments above about the tyranny of the director, and I have to agree. I have seen Robert Carsen's work before, when he made a horrid mess of "The Coronation of Poppaea", and I should have been warned. When I look at the programme for the 2012 Festival, I fear that my eyes will turn first, not to the singers, and not even to the composers, but to the directors, so I can know which productions to avoid.

We loved it from the first note to the last, what exquisite singing, particularly from Sonia Prina, but the whole cast and orchestra were magnificent. The schoolroom theme worked well, it made it easier to empathise with the characters, and there were some hilarious moments, the sirens in the boat and the football spring to mind, the match so much better than an armed fight. It was great on so many levels. Well done everyone!

Thanks to all the previous comments i am adding a sleep mask to my picnic hamper. I shall just be listening to the sublime music and my imagination will do the rest.....

This is the most wonderful new production on a number of different levels.
Handels first London opera I believe combined with wit and terrific style !

I was prepared to close my eyes and listen to the sublime music so wonderfully played by the OAE, but after the rather startling opening set, I was soon rivetted by the fun of it all. Most comments seem to be on the sour side, but judging from audience reaction, I wasn't alone in appreciating the production. Perhaps the sour pussy-cats don't realise that sometimes opera virgins have to be put to bed with a romp!

Robert Carson's production was wonderful, in our view. Instead of trying to illuminate and give depth to a scenario that never made much sense and certainly does not speak to audiences three hundred years later, he has developed a conceit that worked and that makes one pay attention to both the characters and the libretto. Curiously enough, this gave meaning both to the current staging and to the original plot, curious as it is. The conducting and orchestra did justice to the music. We did not fully appreciate Sonia Prina as Rinaldo.

My advice is to hold your opinion until the end. There are indeed infantile moments that genuinely grate and consequently it is all too easy to reach a premature conclusion, but the music is exquisite and the orchestra stunning, and if you can be carried by the quality of this, and reach your conclusion on the production in the car on the way home you may just find yourself applauding the attempt. Tim Meade is a compelling and captivating Eustazio.

A first for us after 25 year of coming to Glyndebourne - we left before the end. A truly dreadful production which obscured the music with banal stage pictures (for example the dancers during the trio in the boat at the start of the second act). The singing was also compromised and we preferred an early night to seeing more of this drivel. Such a shame as it is a more dramatic opera than some of Handel's and could have been most interesting in the hands of a Director who believed in the work.

The festival caters for a membership of varying tastes and should be congratulated in programming a season that includes such thought provoking work. As an audience we should feel very satisfied that we experience the work of directors such as Pelly, McVicar, Kent, Jones, and Carsen. As a regular attendee of the Glyndebourne festival I consider myself lucky that I am able to see such wonderful and spirited productions. Rinaldo is up there with the best.

I'm afraid we're going to add to the chorus of voices expressing disappointment with this production. The music was the best part of it, beautifully played by the OAE. The production itself trivialised the opera. At times it appeared to be trying to be making some clever point which always escaped us and at others it was trying simply to raise a laugh. We found it banal and cheapening. Very disappointing after the outstanding Cesare of seasons past. Sonia Prina did not have the stature for the lead; Brenda Rae and Luca Pisaroni did their best to salvage the evening but even they failed.

Wonderful music, exquisitely performed – but vitiated by an asinine production. We’ve had Hänsel & Gretel in a supermarket, Macbeth with washing machines and caravans, Don Giovanni in the dark and now Rinaldo with bondage and bicycles. Twenty years ago Jonathan Miller wrote of the tyranny of the director. Or is it vanity? A director should illuminate, elucidate, the composer’s work, not smother it with some jejune ‘concept’. To what purpose? To make the work ‘accessible’? Patronising. To make it ‘relevant’? To what? Are orchestral passages really so challenging to an audience that they need to be masked by a tawdry pantomime? The story of Rinaldo, more or less, has been around since the 16th century, the opera’s structure might be awkward, but its themes are timeless: it is only diminished by tying it to some preposterous point-of-entry, decorating it with yelping, robotic, extras and setting it in a school yard. Such an approach shuts down imagination and fantasy, it doesn’t free the mind but trap it in some petty realm. Worst of all is that such an intrusive, distracting, production hinders appreciation of the music, a particular sin when the performance is as excellent as this, vigorously, intelligently, conducted and played, and wonderfully sung. Amongst a first rate cast, Luca Pisaroni was particularly impressive, his opening aria electrifying. What a waste.

This production was stunning on every level. It is a delight that Glyndebourne is producing provocative and thoughtful work that is of a truly European standard. I for one would rather see productions like this than the rather tired work of Mr McVicar.

A traditional production of Handel rarely works well for a modern audience, but that does not justify this production that treats its audience like the school children it portrays. There are so many creative and topical ways in which an imaginative producer could have handled a plot with a background originally set during the Crusades during this era of the (so-called) clash of civilisations, instead of which Robert Carsen instead chose to trivialise the theme. Towards the end the production couldn’t even make up its mind whether it was playing for laughs or wished to be taken seriously. In short, a missed opportunity to create a production as memorable as Glyndebourne’s other recent Handel operas.

The casting of the central role, on the other hand, was an opportunity taken. Most of the comments so far on this issue have favoured counter-tenors, but for those of us who find a counter-tenor to be the ugliest voice on the contemporary stage, one per opera is quite sufficient and it was a pleasure to hear Sonia Prina as Rinaldo.

An extremely poor production which patronised the audience by assuming it is entirely composed of those incapable of understanding a complex narrative. Sonia Prina inadequate in title role, but fine singing from Argante and Eustazio.

I was very disappointed with your production of Rinaldo,the only thing I enjoyed was the orchestra,shame the music did not suit the production. I do not think Handel intended it to be so stupid or ridiculous. I think the director was trying to add some comic relief to a serious opera, which did not suit the libretto or music.

we loved it! Thank you. A treasure we'd looked forward to for months and we were not disapointed

I always enjoy my visits to Glyndebourne but I'm afraid this one was very disappointing. Musically, it was of the usual high standard but the production was to my mind tasteless and distracting. I think opera companies should be be compelled to tell us in advance when the director is planning some ridiculous updating so we can avoid these productions. If you want to see how Handel can be presented with insight, flair and imagination, look no further than David McVicar's wonderful Giulio Cesare. Please take note for the future!

Carsen's Rinaldo worked brilliantly. This is how Handel should be done. And of course wonderfully performed. Congratulations.

Having been bowled over by your superb Giulio Cesare a couple of years ago, I was full of anticipation but ended up disappointed. Handel's lovely music and a generally good cast were undermined by a production that failed to capture either the opera's exotic and supernatural elements or its emotional power. The production was certainly very clever, with lots of neat tricks and laughs, but I found it sterile. At times, I shut my eyes and tried to forget what was happening on stage. The best productions enhance an opera: this one sabotaged it. It was a downbeat end to our Glyndebourne season after a very enjoyable Don Giovanni and a thrilling Meistersinger.

Anonymous comments seem to be the order of the day. Mine would simply be that Glyndebourne must have a depressing view of its audience's ability to appreciate Handel if it decides that the whole thing has to be made into a contemptible spoof to keep them amused.
The previous record with Handel productions had been so marvellous. Why was Rinaldo condemned to this absurdity? So sad when major errors of this sort are made. And it was sad that the name part did not really come off either. Maybe a counter-tenor could have succeeded.
And Janet Bakers are not generally available!

After the quite brilliant productions of Theodora, Rodelinda and Julius Caesar, my expectations for Rinaldo were high. I could not have been more disappointed. Handel, the cast and the orchestra did everything they could to rescue the evening, but no one could have managed it. The first two Acts were so terrible that even the marginally more successful Act 3 could not redeem this dreadful production. What was Robert Carsen thinking? Exactly how were the audience supposed to respond to his portrayal of the hero Rinaldo as a bullied Billy Bunter? The scene at the end of Act 2, when he (actually she – the unfortunate Sonia Prina) was made to sing while suspended precariously on a flying bicycle, must rank as the most ridiculous ever attempted at Glyndebourne.

There were splendid performances from Luca Pisaroni (who both acted and sung excellently), from Brenda Rae and from Tim Mead. The furies as St Trinians' Goths too were very well done. Sadly though, even the good scenes were quite simply in the wrong opera. The production just mocked and belittled, like the bullies we watched beating up Rinaldo during the overture.

Still perhaps if you are going to miss, it is better to miss by a mile. Maybe that is how to achieve the unexpected brilliance of a Julius Caesar, a Theodora or a Meistersinger.

Handel's score for this opera is wonderful, and brilliantly performed by the orchestra. But, oh dear ! the production was gimmicky and messy and distracted from the fabulous music. To turn this opera into a feeble comedy just does not work and is altogether rather irritating. Sometimes it is much better to resist the temptation of producing innovative changes for changes sake, which in this case for us,were far fom successful.

An absolutely dreadful and irrelevant production with unusually poor execution by the chorus. The orchestra played some wonderful music and the male lead was excellent.

I thought the music and the singing were sublime and increased my already great enthusiasm for Handel and his da capo arias. I didn't like the SM at all and was reinforced in my view by the Evening Standard review which said that was what Glyndebourne audiences like, or something equally unpleasant about us. The whole schoolroom thing with bullying and beatings and all those leather bound 'props' were not worthy of the high standards of your productions and not at all like Giulio Cesare which was such a marvellous production.

Most unusually we left Glyndebourne disappointed. The production, school uniforms bicycles and all seemed to be aimed at laughs rather than building on the great music and reasonable story and that was then compounded by the unconvincing and female lead playing Rinaldo who had neither the build nor the power of voice to carry conviction. There was no warning of this strange production in the original summary of the 2011 season and I think that it would have been helpful for that to be explained when we were invited to choose productions last November.

just loved it!

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