Good luck getting a ticket, but it’s worth noting that The Greater Middletown Chorus’ world premiere of the “dramatic oratorio” Letter from Italy, 1944 is this weekend at Middletown High School’s Performing Arts Center (220 Larosa Lane, Middletown).
The show’s sole regular performance, April 28 at 4 p.m., has been sold out for weeks. A “preview performance” was added for tonight (Friday, April 26) at 7:30 p.m., but you can imagine that demand for that is high as well.
The show—performed by the 18-person chorale, five featured soloists and several dozen musicians—is based on the writings of Dr. John K. Meneely Jr., specifically the letters he wrote to his family when he was stationed in Italy as an army medic during World War II.
The correspondence has been turned into an oratorio by Meneely’s daughters Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely (a poet, living in Guilford, whose libretto version of Letter from Italy has been published and is available here) and Sarah Meneely-Kyder (a composer, based in Old Lyme, whose works have been performed by the New Haven Symphony, City Singers of Hartford, American Music/Theater Group and others). The stage direction for the premiere is by the Greater Middletown Chorale’s resident director Sheila Hickey Garvey, a longtime Professor of Theater at Southern Connecticut State University who’s contributed to books on Jason Robards and Eugene O’Neill.
A review of an earlier version of Letters from Italy, 1944, performed in 2003, calls the text “Walt Whitman-ish” and deems the musical setting “trenchantly dramatic, eerie, frightening and warmly lyrical as the text requires.”
The GMC has set up a special website to promote this premiere production, replete with bios, info on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (which Dr. Meneely appeared to have suffered from, though the disorder wasn’t known by that name in his day), blogs by director Garvey and others; an Honor Roll of military veterans “honored by family and friends as part of Letter from Italy, 1944”; and a three minute video preview of the show
The oratorio has received a number of grants to assist in its development, including on the state level from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development and the Connecticut Humanities Council.
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.