Letter from Italy II


Please read part one first.

The Film

The story of Dr. John Meneely keeps evolving. Two years ago it was Letter from Italy, 1944: A soldier’s story told in music in the form of an oratorio brilliantly performed by the Greater Middletown Chorale.

Now arrives the film Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio,  Karyl Evans wrote, directed, and produced the hour-long documentary about the creation of the oratorio. She has added depth and breadth and new layers of meaning to the project.  Dr. Meneely’s daughters worked magic with their trove of resources. Poet Nancy Meneely distilled the letters and some poems into a work both lyrical and gut wrenching. If you go on the website that’s Nan the magician at work

Sister Sarah Meneely-Kyder set those poems to music. The result was a tour de force that explored the relationships of the sisters with their parents in the larger context of war and its aftermath.

The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, brings new energy and insight into the evolution from family archives, most especially the  letters Dr. Meneely wrote home as he struggled alongside his fellows in the 10th Mountain Division on Italy’s snow-covered terrain in the waning days of World War II.

Karyl gives Nancy’s poetry and Sarah’s music immediacy along with a contemporary connection using interviews with veterans. The  members of the 10th Mountain Division who served in WWII are the stars of these parts of the film. The men remain proud and strong and poised. One senses they are thinking, “I showed up and did my job. What’s so special about that?” But that struggle was special, and they deserve all of the honors they are receiving.

If possible, Karyl makes the performances of the stars John Anthony Pott and Patricia Schuman even more compelling as we see the evolution of young Dr. Meneely into a brooding and troubled man.

Things that make me especially proud: Veterans’ writing group member Jerry Augustine offers insights from a later era of service and represents someone who has survived the horrors of combat and comes out golden on the other side. And the Chorale, led by the tireless genius Joyce Kirkpatrick, has put the honor roll on line. Please honor the veterans in your life.

And please watch Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio on CPTV on Thursday. If you can’t, order the DVD on the Chorale’s website.

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