The City of Middletown’s recent Mayor’s Ball designated Letter from Italy, 1944 as its major beneficiary this year.
The festivities took place June 1, 2013, at the Middletown Elks Lodge, and featured 20 members of the Greater Middletown Chorale fronted by Jack A. Pott and directed by Artistic Director Joseph D’Eugenio, performing Oh, the Sweetie Man for over 300 delighted guests. GMC member Adam Perrin introduced the selection for the rapt audience.
Read Cassandra Day’s account by following this link to the Middletown CT Patch. Ms. Day also provided a great video of the performance.
Longtime theater director/producer/actor Christopher Arnott says “Good luck getting a ticket” to the World Premiere of Letter from Italy, 1944. He goes on to describe the staging, story, performances, and overall importance of this project from his critical perspective.
His final word: “Given the excitement over this one, and the fact that many will be shut out from seeing it, here’s hoping for further renditions of Letter from Italy, 1944.”
“LETTER FROM ITALY, 1944″ A WORLD PREMIERE MASTERWORK
BONNIE GOLDBERG 203-397-5433
Call it ” a soldier’s story told in music,” ” dramatic oratorio,” “a moving opera” or “two sisters’ loving tribute to their father,” “Letter from Italy, 1944” tells the true tale of one man’s experiences during wartime. It is at the same time a personal and private story and also universal in its scope.
Dr. John K. Meneely, Jr. was a member of the 10th Mountain Division, an elite and unique unit trained as a ski patrol to fight in winter and mountain warfare. As a medic, John was called upon to witness and provide aid in numerous difficult and painful situations, not the least of which was losing his best friend Billy, killed just one week before the Armistice was declared.
The trauma of wartime doesn’t end when peace is finally achieved and guns are laid down and abandoned. It lingers and invades the soul for close to eternity for some. Labelled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it sends a dark shadow over the future days, days that should be marked by sunshine.
Dr. Meneely’s daughters, one a poet and one a composer, have lovingly dedicated years of their lives to sharing their father’s story, using his letters home from war as the foundation. They could be any soldier’s story. Connecticut residents, poet Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely from Guilford and Grammy-nominated composer Sarah Meneely-Kyder from Lyme, will proudly debut this major musical drama “Letter from Italy, 1944,” a work comprised of 24 choral and solo pieces, on Sunday, April 28 at 4 p.m. at the Middletown High School Center for the Performing Arts, 200 LaRosa Lane, Middletown.
he 80 strong members of the Greater Middletown Chorale, led by Artistic Director Joseph D’Eugenio, will be accompanied by a professional orchestra. The principal soloists are Jack Anthony Pott from South Windsor as John Meneely, Patricia Schuman from Essex as his wife Delia, Patricia Barbano from Branford as daughter Sarah, Sheri Hammerstrom from New York City as daughter Nancy and Margaret Tyler from Pawcatuck as daughter Dorothea. In addition, John’s parents will be portrayed by Katie Hart from Rocky Hill and Michael O’Herron from Middletown.
For Dr. Sheila Hickey Garvey, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University, who serves as the Chorale’s Theater Director, ” It has been a privilege to be a part of the creative team for “Letter from Italy, 1944.” It was just about three years ago that Sarah and Nancy Meneely presented the GMC with the germinating ideas to further develop some already completed short musical pieces based on their father’s letters home during WWII. I was instantly committed to helping their endeavor come to life on the stage. All the men in my family have served in the military during times of war and during periods of international conflict. “Letter From Italy, 1944” became my opportunity to honor them. The men in my family have all been exceptionally brave individuals of great integrity. The fact that what has developed is this larger, grander operatic version of the Meneely sisters’ original idea is nothing short of amazing – and I mean the word Amazing as a gift of spiritual grace. I only hope audiences give themselves the opportunity to experience this locally written and produced masterwork. It seems to me that everyone has at least one soldier they have loved and admired. Seeing “Letter from Italy, 1944″ is a way to pay tribute to all of America’s military and also their loving, supportive families.”
Dr. Garvey is also responsible for all the technical efforts and the projection of WWII archival projections that will accompany the piece and enhance its effectiveness and message.
For Jack Anthony Pott, playing Dr. John Meneely is simply “the role of a lifetime.” He has been involved in the project since December 2011 when his good friend from graduate school at the University of Connecticut, the chorale’s artistic director Joseph D’Eugenio, told him about it. Since that time, Pott has immersed himself in the music, researching PTSD by talking to veterans, investigating the 10th Mountain Division, even speaking directly to the sisters, and all before he was given the part.
His wife thought the role was perfect for him, combining as it does many of his loves: music, history, genealogy and United States military history. He wanted to understand the mindset of the soldier and, passionate to be fully prepared for the role, read all the letters Dr. Meneely had written home. He found them “awe inspiring” and calls this production a “new, major work” that he is passionate about presenting to “raise the public consciousness about the issues in the story.’
For Pott, this is more than an oratorio, because it involves costumes, stage movement, visuals and interaction, so you see the story as well as hear it. When he was finally chosen to play this central figure, he felt privileged to portray a man who could not leave the war behind him when he returned home to his family and couldn’t cope. The tragedy is that for the following eighteen years he used alcohol and medications to treat his depression, until in despair he took his own life.
For Nancy, the poet daughter, the experience of putting together both the book and the oratorio has “broadened my awareness of the workings and efforts of war, past and present, and deepened my appreciation of how hard it can be to come home from the battlefield. I understand now that my father fought two wars, the one he waged overseas and the one he fought against its aftermath. I know now that he was heartbreakingly heroic not only in his first war but also in the second. I’ve always loved him, of course, but what I feel for him now is something even deeper, love mixed with sympathy, admiration, understanding – and gratitude beyond words.”
Her book of poetry “Letter from Italy, 1944” (Publisher, Antrim House) chronicles in lyrical and emotional verse, with photos and explanations, her father’s journey through the battlefields of war and the equally difficult landscapes at home. She writes with bittersweet insight into what he faced. Her sister Sarah has taken many of these missives and set them to music enhancing their poignancy. From the first song, a newly born John hears his father singing “Oh, The Sweetie Man,” to songs of battle like “Riva Ridge” where he is “fight(ing) the clutch of memory and fear,” to “Boots” where he relives the loss of best friend Billy, to the final despair that takes him as a “solitary man who has loved the best he can” in “In the End He Can Do No More.”
For Sarah, the composer, “It has been an amazing challenge to write “Letter from Italy, 1944,” an oratorio that engages large chorus, five professional soloists and orchestra. Rarely have I had such an opportunity. I’ve learned so much musically in the process of the writing. I’ve also learned so much about my father through the writing, and I have a much deeper understanding of him and the extreme duress that he must have experienced both during and after the war prior to his death. I feel him alive in me.
“I feel greatly honored to have been commissioned by the Greater Middletown Chorale to “Letter from Italy, 1944” as Composer-in-Residence. I consider this chorus the equal of all the noted professional choruses in Connecticut. I applaud the chorale for its willingness to take chances, delving into repertoire that has rarely or never been heard! Maestro Joseph D’Eugenio is able to balance high expectations with warmth and charisma, and, as a result, has brought the group to a high level of musicianship, given its stunning and consistent readiness to fulfill all that is asked.
“At the heart of this group is a warmth and breadth of spirit, rare and contagious, by which I feel embraced in all my interactions and undertakings. I thank all of you deeply for your unstinting support. This is indeed a cherishing.”
While the April 28th performance is sold out, the Chorale has added a Preview Performance on Friday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m.. For tickets ($30 seniors, general admission $35), go online to Ticket Leap at www.letterfromitaly.com or at the box office one hour before curtain. The Preview Performance is a complete run through in costume and with movement. There may be breaks to correct technical issues. Stand-by tickets for the Sunday show, if available, will be released on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. An Honor Roll tribute for military veterans will be included in the program.
Immerse yourself in the conflicted life of one soldier, Dr John Meneely, Jr., and learn the costs of war on and off the battlefield in this loving tribute by two daughters for their father in the world premiere of “Letter from Italy, 1944.”
The above can be found at these Publications: bonniegoldberg.blogspot.com (The Balcony and Beyond); www.ctcritics.org; and Middletown Press Thursday, April 15, 2013.
Entertainment > Arts
SCSU’s Sheila Garvey stages ‘Letters from Italy 1944’ oratorio
Friday, April 19, 2013
MIDDLETOWN — It’s a story that’s been told in hushed conversations that generally don’t happen until decades have pushed the memory into a safe recess of the brain.
It’s been captured in iconic photographs that have won Pulitzer Prizes.
It is war, specifically the pre-social media wars, and the interlude it imposes on a relationship between a man and his family, a relationship kept alive through letters that can only express just so much.
“Letters from Italy 1944” is a new original opera/oratorio commissioned by the Greater Middletown Chorale which weeks ago sold out its April 28 date at the Performing Arts Center of Middletown High School, 200 LaRosa Lane.
The chorale is selling tickets to the Friday preview, technically the dress rehearsal. The show will be fully presented, with orchestra, though it may break for any technical problem.
Joseph Eugenio, the chorale’s award-winning artistic director, will conduct the 80-voice chorale with full orchestra, multimedia projections and staging by the GMC’s Drama Director in Residence Sheila Hickey Garvey, Southern Connecticut State University professor of theater.
According to press materials, “Letters” is the “life work” of two Connecticut sisters, Grammy-nominated composer Sarah Meneely-Kyder and poet/lyricist Nancy Meneely. It’s the true story of their father, Yale-educated doctor John Meneely Jr., who was 28 when he enlisted in the Army during World War II, serving as a medic in the 10th Mountain Division.
His “poetic letters home” inspired the work, which weaves together a soldierly story they call “one of terror and loss, and of his bittersweet homecoming.”
Tickets are $30 and $35 for the 7:30 p.m. Friday performance, and are available through www.LettersFromItaly.com.
Garvey said in a statement that as one who has had family serve overseas, she was honored to be involved in the project: “We never plan for the aftermath of war. This performance is meant to honor and remember those who have served.”
The Greater Middletown Chorale will give a portion of the proceeds to local veterans and military projects.
For more information, visit www.gmchorale.org or call 860-316-4854.
© 2013 nhregister.com, a Journal Register Property
Members and friends of the Greater Middletown Chorale were recently cited by the Connecticut General Assembly for their work in bringing Letter from Italy, 1944 to life.
The citations were presented by retiring state Senator Len Suzio, who brought the engrossed citations to Middletown on his last day in office — and his birthday.
Sen. Suzio and Thayer Talbott of the Middlesex County Community Foundation also brought news of financial support for the Letter from Italy, 1944 project.
- The state DECD/Connecticut Office of the Arts has granted $60,000 to the Chorale in support of the documentary accompanying Letter from Italy, 1944.
- The MCCF granted $5,000 in direct support of the Letter from Italy, 1944 production.
Read the account at this link:
The Greater Middletown Chorale has learned from Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development’s CT Office of the Arts that it has been awarded a grant for the “Letter from Italy” Documentary in the amount of $60,000 — the largest single grant in the Chorale’s history!
This pivotal grant award, in the COA’s Arts Leadership/Implementation category, is a dream come true. Although it comprises only about 20% of the Total LFI Project budget and about 50% of the Documentary budget, it will probably ensure that the full one-hour, High-Definition Documentary film will come to be.Thus, the entire “Letter from Italy, 1944” project will be effectively documented. It will take the viewer from Sarah Meneely-Kyder’s commission and composition through the Connecticut Community Conversations and rehearsals to the “Letter from Italy, 1944” Premiere Concert (April 28) and reactions to all of this from the artists, the audience and Veterans among those groups.
Moreover, the Documentary will give LFI legs—yea, wings—as multiple broadcasts reach 40,000 to 60,000 people at a showing. Your Chorale’s small pebble will create ever-expanding ripples in the world’s virtual pond.
Other grant applications are pending, that, coupled with donations, sponsorships and sold-out ticket sales, will make the total and unique project succeed. Yes, this is heady stuff!
So join in our joyous excitement and thanks to the COA for this important and propelling catalyst of a grant. Please let your state legislators know how greatly it is appreciated. The GMC needs your active help in continuing this magical journey of LFI.
Connecticut Humanities announced a $7,000 “planning grant” for the Greater Middletown Chorale’s Letter from Italy, 1944 program.
The grant will help with the upcoming “Connecticut Community Conversations: Letter From Italy, 1944 – A Generational Legacy” event. It will be used for scholarly support and advice.
This conversation will deepen the links between war’s effects on individual veterans and the echoes absorbed by families and loved ones who support them after their return.
The Chorale produced a local conversation for the 2010 Elijah concert. That event brought together a Muslim imam, a Protestant minister, and a Jewish rabbi for an ecumenical dialogue.
The CThumanities announcement may be read here. The same story also offers descriptions of the other grants that were announced in this wave.
Grants demonstrate broad base of support
The article announces the receipt of over $16,000 in grants over the past 10 months. These monetary awards demonstrate that the Greater Middletown Chorale is receiving broad support from the arts community for commissioning and producing this original, large chorale dramatic work.