Letter from Italy, 1944: World Premiere Performance Premieres Sunday, May 15 at 8:30 p.m. on CPTV4U and Sunday, May 22 at 12:30 p.m. on CPTV

Meryl Streep records the narration for Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio with filmmaker Karyl Evans. Streep also provides the introduction for the new film Letter from Italy, 1944: World Premiere Performance. (Photo by Owen Evans)

Introduced by Meryl Streep and effectively addressing the national issue of PTSD, Letter from Italy, 1944: World Premiere Performance is a powerful musical drama.

This soldier’s story, told through Grammy-nominee Sarah Meneely-Kyder’s brilliantly varied and lush musical score with lyrics by Nancy Meneely, is presented by the GMChorale based in Middletown, Conn.; soloists and an orchestra; GMChorale Artistic Director Joseph D’Eugenio; and filmed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Karyl Evans.

In 2015, CPTV premiered Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio, which took viewers behind the scenes of the creation and staging of this original oratorio. Now, viewers can see the complete performance in Letter from Italy, 1944: World Premiere Performance, premiering on CPTV4U, CPTV’s sister station, on Sunday, May 15 at 8:30 p.m., with a rebroadcast on CPTV on Sunday, May 22 at 12:30 p.m. on CPTV.



Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio

This program originally aired on CPTV on Thursday, June 18, 2015

In this still from Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio, the performers and the creative team behind the oratorio take a bow.

Every generation is affected by war and its aftermath. Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio, a one-hour documentary that premiered on CPTV and was commissioned by the GMChorale (formerly the Greater Middletown Chorale) explores the effects of war on a soldier and on his relationships with his family through the lens of staging a new American oratorio.

Letter from Italy takes viewers on the journey of the creation of an oratorio written by two sisters, Sarah Meneely-Kyder and Nancy Meneely, about their father, Dr. John K. Meneely Jr., a doctor trained at Yale Medical School (1941) who served as a medic in the elite 10th Mountain Division during World War II. He returned home from war in Italy with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pictured from left: Nancy Meneely, Joseph D’Eugenio, Sarah Meneely-Kyder, Meryl Streep and Karyl Evans (Photo credit: Owen Evans)

The film is narrated by Academy Award winner Meryl Streep and directed by five-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Karyl Evans, a North Haven, Connecticut, resident and owner of Karyl Evans Productions LLC

As producer/director/writer/editor of the film, Evans took a special interest in the project, noting, “Everything about this project is compelling; the story of Yale-trained Dr. Meneely and his family, the impressive accomplishments of the 10th Mountain Division in Italy, and the breathtaking quality of the lyrics and music in the oratorio.”

Meneely-Kyder, a Grammy-nominated composer, and Nancy Meneely, a noted poet, both Connecticut residents, wrote the compelling two-hour oratorio in collaboration with the GMChorale’s artistic director, Joseph D’Eugenio of Hamden.

The film tells the history of the 10th Mountain Division (which is still active today) and the life of John Meneely, and then follows the creative process of the writing of the oratorio’s lyrics (which are based on Dr. Meneely’s poetic letters home from war) and music, as well as the staging of the oratorio by theater director Sheila Garvey and the intensive rehearsal process with the GMChorale’s 80 members and the soloists, including tenor Jack Anthony Pott and Metropolitan Opera soprano Patricia Schuman. The film also uses interviews with the creators, singers, three World War II 10th Mountain Division veterans, historians, audience members, community participants and other veterans, as well as archival photos and film, to weave together a compelling story about a veteran and his family and the way a shared artistic experience can help heal the trauma of war.

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Letter from Italy was made possible with the major support of the state DECD/Connecticut Office of the Arts.

To order copies of Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio (one-hour documentary narrated by Meryl Streep) and Letter from Italy, 1944: World Premiere Performance (two-hour concert), and to learn more about the Letter from Italy, 1944 project, visit GMChorale.org.


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Bios:

Sarah Meneely-Kyder, Composer/pianist

Nan and I embraced as composer and poet in the creation of an oratorio, Letter From Italy, 1944, that described the life of our father and his family prior to, during and following his experience as a doctor in the 10th Mountain Division during WW II. He won the world war but suffered acutely from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), eventually taking his life in 1963. When the GMChorale added the third discipline, Karyl Evans’ documentation of the process by which poetry, music and voice join to create a work of art, we were thrilled to understand that the application of her expert skill and sympathy for her subject would carry this purpose far forward of what we might have hoped. Her moving film underscores not only the complexity of the Chorale’s undertaking but also the impact of PTSD on veterans, past and present, promoting the imperative to comprehend, fully honor and reach out to the men and women who currently struggle with this crippling disorder, too often unsuccessfully.

Through the composing of the oratorio, always deeply inspired by Nan’s lyrics which translated into sound immediately, I was enabled to fully recognize what my father had suffered, and to feel a renaissance of love for him. — Sarah Meneely-Kyder

Grammy nominated composer/pianist Sarah Meneely-Kyder is a graduate of Goucher College, Peabody Conservatory and Yale University. In the years following her formal education in the Western musical tradition, she studied the North Indian sitar and was eventually initiated by Roop Verma, a student of world-renowned sitarist, Ravi Shankar. In recent years she has turned her attention to vocal composition. Distinguished soloists and choral organizations throughout New England have performed numerous works. In April of 2013, she premiered her large-scale oratorio, Letter From Italy, 1944, to a sold-out house, with an enthusiastic audience response. In March 2015 she attended a recital in London that included a premiere of a set of arrangements on Scottish Folk Songs sung by soprano Adele Paxton.
A member of American Composers Alliance, New York Women Composers and a founding member of Connecticut Composers, Inc., her creative endeavors have been rewarded with several grants and prizes including Yale University’s Rena Greenwald Memorial Prize and several Artist Project Grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.

Meneely-Kyder has done two recordings for CD on the North/South Recordings label, the second of which was nominated for a Grammy in 2003. She is published in the Dictionary of Contemporary Music, edited by John Vinton, and she has an entry on her music in the revised edition of Baker’s Biographical Dictionary, edited by Nicholas Slonimsky.

For 22 years, prior to her retirement in 2013, she was a member of the music faculty at Wesleyan University, where she taught composition, piano, and chamber music.
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Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely, Poet

Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely, Smith College B.A. in hand, began her professional life as an English teacher in Vermont’s Waterbury High School. When, after two happy years, Vermont suggested it was important to acquire a real credential, she acquired a Master of Arts in Teaching from Yale. In the late 60s, she moved from teaching into the work of training community/school teams in drug abuse prevention at Yale’s Drug Dependence Institute. Later, with a Master’s of Education in Human Relations from the UMass School of Education, she tacked back and forth across a career path in training and education, finishing paid employment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, DC., where she worked first in emergency management training and then directly in support of response and recovery operations. She retired north to Connecticut and now devotes volunteer time to the Guilford Poets Guild and the Guilford A Better Chance Program. Her poetry and prose have appeared in a variety of publications and newspapers and one poem has been performed twice by the East Haddam Stage Company, most recently as “an audience favorite”. Her book, Letter from Italy, 1944, published by Antrim House, provides the libretto for an oratorio of the same name composed by her sister, Sarah Meneely-Kyder. Reviews of and excerpts from that book can be found at http://www.antrimhousebooks.com/meneely.html.

Commissioned by Middletown’s GMChorale, and working in the different artistic disciplines to which our father led us, Sarah and I collaborated to create a work that would honor his life and memorialize his death. First in poetry and then in the choral music to which the poetry is set, we sought to capture his experience as a doctor in the 10th Mountain Division during WWII and his slow surrender to PTSD in 1963. We hoped equally to salute the service of all those who have returned and are now returning from war with what are now termed “invisible wounds”. Karyl Evans’ documentary underscores the magnitude of the Chorale’s undertaking but, even more importantly, the impact of PTSD on veterans and their lives. Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely

Joseph D’Eugenio
Artistic Director and Conductor, GM Chorale

Joseph D’Eugenio has been described as one of the Connecticut’s most engaging conductors and musicians, and is known for his passion and dedication for preparing and performing great choral literature. As a conductor, artistic director, music director, educator, pianist and organist, D’Eugenio enjoys a busy and varied career in the world of classical music. His imaginative programming and musical versatility exposes performers and audiences alike to freshly-conceived presentations of choral music and captivating performances.

Now in his 16th season as the GMChorale’s (Greater Middletown Chorale) artistic director and conductor, D’Eugenio and the chorale have joined forces and collaborated with the esteemed New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Together this season, they presented, to sold out audiences, great masterworks for chorus and orchestra, including G.F. Handel’s Messiah and W.A. Mozart’s Requiem.

In concert, D’Eugenio has delved into presenting music that represents many choral genres and traditions, including the current Connecticut tour of Zimriyah – a Festival of Jewish Music with the professional GMChorale Chamber Singers. D’Eugenio has championed the music of many prominent contemporary composers including Gwyneth Walker, Eugenie Rocherolle, Peter Niedmann, Ellen Gilson Voth, Lee McQuillan and Henry Mollicone. D’Eugenio conducted the GMChorale in the east coast premiere of Mollicone’s Beatitude Mass for the Homeless for chorus, soloists and instrumental chamber ensemble in 2014.

In April 2013, he conducted the critically-acclaimed premiere of Sarah Meneely-Kyder’s Letter from Italy, 1944. In the creation of that oratorio, about the life of 10th Mountain Division soldier Dr. John Meneely and his struggles with PTSD, Maestro D’Eugenio played a major creative role, shaping the book and the production.

Named “Conductor of the Year” by Connecticut’s Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association in 2009, D’Eugenio has instructed choral groups at various schools and colleges, including Wesleyan University. An accomplished organist, he is also Director of Music at First Congregational Church, Cheshire. An accompanist of the first rank and in demand by operatic vocalists and concert instrumentalists, D’Eugenio also frequently accompanies professional choral organizations, including CONCORA (Connecticut Choral Artists) and VOCE. With degrees in music from The Hartt School and the Universities of Hartford and Connecticut, he maintains a private piano studio.

During two European tours with the GMChorale, D’Eugenio conducted the group’s international concert debuts in Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Rome, Florence and Venice. He culminated these European tours by leading the GMChorale as the single choir for Sunday’s noon mass at San Marco Basilica in Venice.

Sheila Hickey Garvey
Resident Director, GMChorale

My commitment to the creation and presentation of Letter from Italy, 1944 was total as it explored in majestic depth the subject I consider to be the core of my being, that of our “Wounded Warriors” and their families. I am grateful to the GMChorale, Joe D’Eugenio and the Meenely sisters for their brilliant contributions during the inspired collaborative process and for the opportunity to stage this uniquely American masterwork. Sheila Hickey Garvey

Sheila Hickey Garvey is a professor of theater at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), where she teaches directing, acting and oral interpretation. She has served as the Resident Director of the Greater Middletown Chorale (GMChoral), staging its productions of Mendelsohnn’s ELIJA and the world premiere of the opera/oratorio Letter From Italy, 1944 by Sarah Meneely and Nancy Meneely Kyder (http://letterfromitaly.com). Dr. Garvey has directed over 25 productions for SCSU’s Department of Theatre. Her 2011 production of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone was one of only five New England University Theater productions invited for presentation at the Region I/ John F. Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival (KC/ACTF). Her spring 2008 production of “A Piece of My Heart”, a play about the women who served in the Vietnam War received KC/ACTF’s Region I directing award for Outstanding Women’s Initiative Production. In 2006 she received the prestigious Moss Hart Award for her staging of the American Premiere of Ellen Kaplan’s Pulling Apart, a play about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Dr. Garvey was awarded a John F. Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival Directing Fellowship in 1995.

In other professional venues she has directed and acted in many of the award winning one-act plays produced by the New England Actor’s Theatre for Short and Neat and staged at New Haven’s Lincoln Theatre during New Haven Connecticut’s International Festival of the Arts. She has also acted in principal roles with Long Wharf Theatre, The Kitchen Playwright’s Theatre, The Weathervane Theatre, The Allenberry Playhouse and The Williamstown Theatre Festival among others. In recent summers she has been acting in the New Play Development Workshop/Showcases performed at the national Association for Teacher in Higher Education (ATHE). In the summer of 2015 she will be playing the principal role in Roonan Noone’s newest play The Second Girl in Montreal, Canada. She is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers union and an EMC in Actors Equity.

In the summer of 2014 she was invited to present her research on New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre at the University of Cork in Ireland. In 2011 she was invited to teach master classes in acting and directing on the stage of the National Theatre of the Republika Srpska for the Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia. Her articles on theatrical performance have appeared in The Eugene O’Neill Review, Theatre Survey, The New England Theatre Journal, The Recorder and Coup de Theatre, a journal of the Sorbonne. She is a past president of the Eugene O’Neill Society (2001-2003), a co-editor and a contributor to the book “Jason Robards Remembered” (MacFarland Inc., 2001) and a contributor to “A Critical Companion to Eugene O’Neill: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work” (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2009). In 2011 she collaborated on the creation of a guidebook titled “Eugene O’Neill’s New York” with the distinguished O’Neill historians Arthur and Barbara Gelb. She hold a B.S. from Emerson College (Theatre), an M.A. from Northwestern University (Directing), a Ph.D. from New York University (TISCH) Performance Studies and is also a graduate of Broadway’s Circle in the Square Professional Acting School. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sheila-garvey/12/356/57; https://www.southernct.edu/academics/schools/arts/departments/theatre/

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