"Letter from Italy, 1944"
Veterans, PTSD, world premiere, Connecticut artists, letters from Italy – what do these have in common?
On April 28, 2013 an epic musical drama will unfold in Connecticut. It is about a World War II, 10th Mountain Division soldier, Dr. John K. Meneely, Jr., who served as a medic in the Aleutians and Italy. At the end of the war suffering from PTSD, he returned home to his young family. For the next 18 years he and his family struggled with his internal battles. Half a century later, their collective story is being told and their triumphs being sung.
The soldier’s daughters, Grammy-nominee composer Sarah Meneely-Kyder and poet Nancy Meneely, both Connecticut residents, have woven their physician father’s letters and their family’s story into a poignant saga of courage and compassion. Meneely-Kyder has set her sister’s ringing lyrics to music in a major musical drama, Letter from Italy, 1944. It calls for a cast of five soloists, a large chorus and orchestra.
Letter from Italy, 1944 is directed by Joseph D’Eugenio, Artistic Director of The Greater Middletown Chorale, one of the state’s preeminent regional choral groups. The Chorale will give the work its world premiere with a semi-staged production featuring its chorus of 80 voices and 5 professional soloists, accompanied by a professional orchestra under the baton of D’Eugenio. In addition, the Chorale’s Theater Director, Sheila Garvey of Central Connecticut State University, will direct the projection of World War II archival projections and other technical effects for the April 28 production. The premiere performance of Letter from Italy, 1944 will take place in the state-of-the-art concert hall of Middletown High School’s Performing Arts Center that opened in 2010.
South Windsor’s Jack A. Pott will sing the title role of Dr. Meneely. He has been consulting with the Meneely family, pouring over the physician’s letters from the front, photos and immersing himself with family recollections to better interpret the part. The tenor, who even resembles Dr. Meneely, is familiar to Connecticut audiences as a soloist and singer with Connecticut’s professional groups, CONCORA and Voce, at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church and on the music faculties of several Connecticut colleges.
Letter from Italy, 1944 is a gift to the state and the nation from Connecticut people. Leading singer Jack Pott and Director D’Eugenio are both long-time residents of the state and graduates of Hartt and the University of Connecticut. Composer Meneely-Kyder has a twenty-year career teaching composition and piano at Wesleyan University. The singers of The Greater Middletown Chorale reside in over 30 of the state’s towns ranging from West Hartford and Glastonbury to Bridgeport, Madison and Stonington.
Veterans from the state have been involved in bringing this new American musical drama to the people of Connecticut. Connecticut State Commissioner Linda Schwartz and former Veterans Affairs Director for the City of Middletown and American Legion Post 75 Commander Phillip Cacciola, sit on the Chorale’s Letter from Italy Advisory Board. They are joined by University of Connecticut Board of Trustees Chair and President of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, Lawrence D. McHugh; University of Connecticut Professor of Music, Dr. Peter Bagley; Wesleyan Professor of History, Dr. Ronald W. Schatz; Middlesex Hospital President & CEO, Vincent G. Capece, Jr.
Support for the commission of Letter from Italy, 1944 has been awarded to the Chorale by the Meet the Composer program of the New England Foundation for the Arts. Support for the world premiere concert has been made possible by Choral Arts New England’s Alfred Nash Patterson Award, the Tenth Mountain Division Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, the Middletown Commission on the Arts, the City of Middletown, and the Connecticut DECD's Office of the Arts.
Connecticut Community Conversations: Letter from Italy, 1944 – A Generational Legacy
To prepare both audiences and singers for the April concert, the Chorale has developed a series of events, “Community Conversations: Letter from Italy, 1944 – A Generational Legacy”. Open to the public and free of charge, the series is supported by the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Connecticut Humanities, the Tenth Mountain Division and the Inn at Middletown. The opening event, a talk about PTSD and the history of military medicine by Dr. John Warner of the Yale Medical School faculty, took place in December at Middlesex Hospital.
On Friday, February 8, “The Last Ridge: the Epic Story of America’s Mountain Troops and their Assault on Hitler’s Europe” is scheduled. It is an illustrated lecture by The Last Ridge’s author, McKay Jenkins, Professor of English and Journalism at the University of Delaware. Jenkins’ talk will describe the formation of the illustrious 10th Mountain Division in the opening days of the World War II, its rugged training ground - Camp Hale – at the altitude of 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, its disastrous first battle in Alaska and its costly victories in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. “The Last Ridge, based on skillful interviews with the survivors, is a fine account of a great story,” said Peter Matthiessen, author of The Snow Leopard. “The Last Ridge” presentation will be at 7 PM, in Chapman Hall, Middlesex Community College, Training Hill Road, Middletown and is open to the public, free of charge.
Subsequent events in the Connecticut Community Conversations: Letter from Italy, 1944 include:
February 28, 2013 : Letter from Italy, 1944 – the Creative Process – a discussion with Oddfellows Playhouse Teen Repertory Company and the Artistic Team of Letter from Italy, 1944 including Joseph D’Eugenio, Sheila Garvey and Nancy Meneely. Oddfellows Playhouse, 128 Washington St., Middletown. 7 PM
Sunday, March 10, 2013: Poetry Reading – Nancy Meneely will read from her newly published book, Letter from Italy, 1944 (Antrim House, Simsbury, Connecticut). Discussion will follow. Hubbard Room, Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown 2 PM
Friday, March 22, 2013: MILE (Middletown Institute for Lifelong Education) Presentation – Nancy Meneely, Poet and Sarah Meneely-Kyder, Composer, creators of Letter from Italy, 1944. Pre-registration required, see www.mileonline.org. Chapman Hall, Middlesex Community College, Training Hill Road, Middletown 10 A.M
April –May, 2013: Exhibition – Letter from Italy, 1944: Primary Sources, featuring Dr. Meneely’s letters, photos, objects; Nancy Meneely’s poetry drafts, published book and lyrics; Sarah Meneely-Kyder’s music from drafts to finished scores. Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown Regular library hours
More information is available at www.gmchorale.org and www.letterfromitaly.com