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January 11, 2011

Death of 'Breaking Away' director Peter Yates brings back memories of tenor aria

The news that British film director Peter Yates died over the weekend at the age of 81 stirred fond memories of his 1979 hit "Breaking Away" (and less fond memories of "For Pete's Sake," the Barbra Streisand comic vehicle from 1974 that delivers maybe six or seven good laughs).

My favorite part about "Breaking Away" is the young hero's obsession with all things Italian. Dennis Christopher was great in the role of Dave, who takes his Italian phase to the ultimate step of pretending to be an exchange student, hoping to impress a college girl.

Dave's musical weapon of charm in the movie is "M'appari" from Friedrich Flotow's 1847 opera "Martha." It's easy to understand Dave's choice. This is a wonderfully lyrical aria that seems to gain in sensual appeal by being sung in Italian (that's how it used to be most often heard), although it also hits the spot, to be sure, in its original German as "Ach, so fromm." Either way, it's the only reason anyone remembers the name Flotow today.

If you've never seen "Breaking Away," it's well worth seeking out; I've attached the trailer. But first, check out these two performances of Flotow's lovely aria. You'll hear one of the great singers of the past, Tito Schipa, giving a superbly elegant account in Italian. Then, the current big buzz-generator in tenordom, Jonas Kaufmann, delivering it very expressively in German:

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:13 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


Thank you so much for this; as a Kaufmanniac it turned up on my google alert.
What a lovely piece, and a great ride down memory lane of a wonderful movie....
I did not even remember that the kid sang "m'appari," and I have never seen Tito Schipa sing it either...
best wishes

So glad you enjoyed it. I can well understand your devotion to Herr Kaufmann. He has quite the gift. tim

"six or seven good laughs" is not bad, Tim. It's actually pretty good by todays standards.

Point taken. But, as a lifelong Streisand addict, I hate when she falls below par. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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