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: