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Career > > 2014 > Letter From Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio

Letter From Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio

April 03, 2014 | Karyl Evans Productions LLC | 60 minutes
Directed by: Karyl Evans
Dr. John K. Meneely, Jr. has served as a World War II medic and came home to a young family. His letters home, though couched in prose, are elegantly poetic in their description of his experiences and the soldiers with whom he served. John Meneely’s daughters, Connecticut poet Nancy Meneely and Grammy-nominated composer Sarah Meneely-Kyder, have collaborated on a sensitive and magnificent choral masterwork. Their Letter from Italy, 1944 brings its listeners to tears with its faithful and insightful recounting of their father’s journey.

Along with the powerful story line, what may move the documentary forward, once it is released, Ms Evans said, is that the film is narrated by Meryl Streep. The Academy Award-winning actress was a classmate of Sarah Meneely’s at Yale, when both were in the theater program there. “I was so excited to hear that Meryl Streep would narrate,” said Ms Evans. It elevates a film in the minds of consumers to have the cachet of a well-known artist involved. “Meryl Streep is a definite plus to bring people to the project,” she said. Driving herself up from New York City, Ms Streep arrived in New Haven in the midst of a February snowstorm to record the narrative. “When I was directing her, I looked over and it was like a dream. I was directing Meryl Streep!” exclaimed Ms Evans. “I’ve been involved with a lot of actors, but Meryl was incredible. Working with her equaled my interview with John Houston. That’s how excited I was,” she said.

In just one hour, Ms Streep had completed two readings of each of the sections — “to perfection,” said Ms Evans. When the more than year-long editing process is completed on Letter From Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio, it will be a one-hour film including clips from the Greater Middletown Chorale rehearsals and performance, material from over 70 interviews, archival photographs and documents, and footage from the National Archives, so that the audience might know more about the 10th Mountain Division with which Dr Meneely served. It will also include an original score, and of course, the narration by Ms Streep. Viewers will hear portions of the 23 poems Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely constructed from her father’s writings that tell the story of innocence exposed to the horrors of war, and the valiant effort made to return to life at home when the war was over.

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