‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ uses opera mindfully

Arya Roshanian | Daily Trojan

A few days ago, while watching the premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, one of my favorite arias began playing in the middle of the episode. During a sequence that pans throughout different reaction shots following the shooting of Versace, “O quante volte” from Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi sounds over the foreboding footage. Normally, I hate when popular media samples classical music. Chances are, the worst recording was chosen from an ample catalogue of fine artists. Surprisingly, Ryan Murphy, creator of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, got it right.

Opera has a long history of being placed in dramatic moments in movies or TV series, but having studied the art in depth, I realize that the pieces or arias that are chosen never relate to the scene itself. The thing about opera, like music in general, is that the text may be somewhat disconnected with the feeling or emotion of the melody. For example, a melancholy mood could be set to passionate texts. On the other hand, upbeat tempos may be accompanied by arduous moments. So even though an aria may sound sad, the meaning could (and probably does) have an entirely different context.

But it’s clear that Murphy, or whoever is in charge of choosing music, did his or her homework. I’ll try my best not to give away spoilers of the episode (though in my opinion, you can’t really spoil a biopic), but the use of opera throughout is brilliant. The episode, titled “The Man Who Would be Vogue,” flashes between 1990 and 1997, the former set in San Francisco while Gianni Versace designed costumes for San Francisco Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ Capriccio. This moment is less ominous, but deserves recognition for aesthetic accuracy. However, it’s the Bellini aria, sung by Natalie Dessay with Concerto Köln in 2007, that is the real showstopper.

“O quante volte,” which translates literally to, “O, how much time?” comes in the second half of the first act of the Bellini masterpiece, which is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Giullietta (Juliet) looks at herself in the mirror in anticipation for her upcoming nuptials to another man. She dreadfully awaits the moment in which she is passed off, wishing for Romeo to visit. She begs the question: how much time until she’s saved? I’m not much of a Ryan Murphy fan, but something in the way this scene was done had me questioning my own worth. Like Giulietta, I’m getting impatient waiting to be saved. Or rather, waiting to be saved from apathy and pessimism.

Art by Effren Villanueva | Daily Trojan

When I was a young teen, my mother told me a story about when she went to a palm reader with her friends when she was in her 30s. She took everything the psychic said with a grain of salt, but she remembers vividly that the psychic told her that both her children would be very successful, especially her son (me!). Whether the palm reader actually relayed this information or my mother just told me this in an effort to get me to do my homework is unknown, but I hold the premonition close to my heart. In times of hardship or woe, my light at the end of the tunnel is actually a sound, and that sound is my mother’s voice saying, “You’re destined for success.”

But I’m still waiting. And as I keep waiting, as I have for the last 26 years, I’m beginning to lose hope. What if that big moment has already come, but I was too busy waiting for it to pay attention? What if I’m already in my prime, and this is the best it’s ever going to get? Maybe it’s more beneficial to come to accept my accomplishments as they are, and not as a precursor for destiny.

I’m probably just being melodramatic — but I’m just taking my cues from Giulietta. She romantizes her anguish; her “sky weeps” with the “passion of desire,” and “the air that winds around” is her “longing.” Meanwhile, whenever I’m not waiting for my big break, I consume myself with fantasies of life imagined in what I consider my prime. What that even is, I’m not sure, and I don’t think I’ll be completely happy until that happens. But I’ll try to come to terms with it. Though my world revolves around realism (some would say pessimism), I’ve always been uncharacteristically optimistic about my professional life. It’s the only thing that keeps me from falling into an unmentionable abyss of regret and remorse.

If the rest of The Assassination of Gianni Versace is anything like the first episode, I’ll be watching from beginning to end. As an Italophile, I knew I’d find reasons to tune in regularly. Maybe it’s Penelope Cruz’s spot-on interpretation of fashion legend Donatella Versace. Or maybe the opportunity to see Darren Criss’ bare ass over nine weeks. Either way, it was the show’s use of music that has me inspired.

Arya Roshanian is a graduate student studying ibrary and information science. His column, “From The Top,” runs Tuesdays.