Bicycle Opera in Innsbruck


Austria is known for its music and especially classical music constituting a lively culture. And, Austria is also a place where cycling is on the rise and cycling cultures are rapidly evolving. So what happens if those two philosophies are merging together?

One recent example for such a creative cultural clash is the opera “Der Dritte Polizist” (The Third Policeman) which was recently shown at the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria. The opera was commissioned to the composer Florian Bramböck and the librettist Doris Happl who adapted the novel “The Third Policeman” by Flan O’Brian  (actually Brian O’Nolan) for a modern opera piece.


The Irish author Flann O’Brian is known for his satires, thought-experiments and unconventional stories. He is held today as one of the most influential Irish authors. In 1940 O’Brian wrote his second novel “The Third Policeman” which was influenced by contemporary physics at the time, discovering relativity of time and space (Einstein, Schrödinger or Heisenberg).

“The Third Policeman” may be called a bicycle opera because of several reasons. The novel is set in poor post-financial crisis Ireland of the 19-fourties which puts a first emphasis on the bicycle as cheap means of transport. The main character also admires the theories of a strange scientist – De Selby – whose atom theory postulates that people who cycle a lot are becoming part of their bicycles, and vice-versa, because of the exchange of atoms between cyclists and bicycle. Vintage-cycling wise the production in Innsbruck features beautiful vintage bicycles and kind of monster-bikish objects used by crazy policemen as requisites. Those kinetically appealing objects are supplementing the opera’s vivid music and the philosophical, yet funny text, which allows the opera to repeatedly climax in beautifully symbolic scenes related to the bicycle and cycling as a cultural act. To name a few examples; the taming of the bicycle, the tandem-duet of Joe and his soul happily riding a bicycle together or the absurdly funny scenes in the metaphysical layer where Joe Mulrooney ends up, not knowing what happened to him. If you don’t know that as well it is maybe time to see some (bicycle) opera again.

For cyclists the opera “The Third Policeman” demonstrates two to cyclists well-known facts, amongst others, namely (I) that frequent cyclists are actually and physically paired with their vehicles (at least according to De Selby) and (II) that cyclist souls are happy when they are set free to pedal as they wish.

Velo-city 2013 Vienna | Cycling Stories


Florian Lorenz

Velo-city 2013 Communications Team