Sen. Suzio Honors Chorale's Dramatic New 'Letter From Italy, 1944' Project

The Greater Middletown Chorale's new oratorio was written and composed by two sisters, Sarah Meneely-Kyder, of Old Lyme, and poet Nancy Fitzhugh Meneely of Guilford, and inspired by their father's letters home during World War II and his battl


Sen. Len Suzio (R-13th) presented a $5,000 grant to The Greater Middletown Chorale in connection with its upcoming dramatic "Letter from Italy, 1944," a true story based on the WWII experience of the composer and lyricist's father. 

"The timeliness of this project is a sad fact of American life today with many military personnel returning home and in need of support as they cope with war's aftermath," said Joseph D'Eugenio, artistic director of the Chorale.  

Thayer Talbott of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County made a surprise announcement during Sen. Suzio's talk that the Foundation has awarded a grant of $5,000 to the Letter from Italy project.

"It is the Chorale's hope that the healing power of the beautiful music and words by the Meneely sisters will reach today's veterans and their families."

Letter from Italy, 1944 is by Sarah Meneely-Kyder, a Grammy-nominee composer who lives in Old Lyme and teaches at Wesleyan University.  

The dramatic musical work has lyrics by the composer's sister, Nancy Fitzhugh Meneely, a poet who lives in Guilford. This story of a soldier who returns from battle with post-traumatic stress disorder is actually the story of their father and based on his letters and their family's story.

Dr. Meneely, fresh out of Yale Medical School, enlisted with the illustrious 10th Mountain Division and served as a medic in both the Aleutians and in Italy during WWII. It was in Italy that this mountain division was severely tested, with great losses and many casualties.  Dr. Meneely returned with his own internal battles that he waged for 18 years after the war.  His daughters' oratorio, Letter from Italy, 1944, is a poignant retelling of this drama and the family's compassionate reaction to it.  

The Greater Middletown Chorale commissioned the writing of the work in 2010, and Artistic Director D'Eugenio of Hamden was part of the musical collaboration that created this new American oratorio. He will conduct the soloists, chorus and orchestra in the premiere performance of the work on April 28 at Middletown High School.

The production will be semi-staged and will take advantage of the new high school's state-of-the-art technical capabilities.  

Dramatic lighting effects and projections of the 10th Mountain Division's famous ski troops will enhance the production and are under the direction of Sheila Garvey, Chair of Southern Connecticut State University's Theater Department.

"Connecticut Community Conversations," a series of lectures and events to prepare both participants and audiences for the performance will take place in the months preceding the premiere.  

The series is open to the public. The first lecture, about the historical perspectives of PTSD by Dr. John Warner of Yale University, was held at Middlesex Hospital in December.  The second event will be an illustrated lecture about the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. It will be given by McKay Jenkins, author of the book, "The Last Ridge," a history of the 10th Mountain Division.  

Presentations by the composer and the lyricist will be given as part of Middlesex Institute for Lifelong Education's winter/spring offerings and also at Russell Library. An exhibition of the oratorio's primary sources, including Dr. Meneely's letters and photos, will take place at Russell Library in April and May. This series is funded in part by grants from The Tenth Mountain Division Foundation and the Community Foundation of Middlesex County.

Recently the Greater Middletown Chorale was awarded a $60,000 grant from the Connecticut DECD/Office of the Arts. This grant will support half the cost of a one-hour documentary about the entire Letter from Italy, 1944 project. Karyl Evans, a documentarian from North Haven with five Emmys to her credit, has been engaged by the Greater Middletown Chorale to direct the making of the documentary over the course of this year. 


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