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Karen Saillant is an opera singer who creates a new opera each year and premiers it in one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. We came to Città della Pieve in late August to see the premier of her latest creation, ‘Azaio’.

Karen Saillant can be defined in many ways, her life has been a series of initiatives and inventions with a common theme: music. Music is not only what we listen to, that which has been written and recited by great performers, but also that which each of us produces when in harmony with his body.

By studying the functions of respiration in life, following the teachings of Carl Stough, who has been her teacher, Karen was able to remove her husband, who was in a vegetative coma, from a ventilator and bring him back to self-contained breathing- an act still today, considered impossible.

Going back to the Opera and her strongest passion: creating new operatic works with professionals, children and young people: This year she selected 16 young singers from Philadelphia and 1 bass from England to sing and act in “Azaio”, an original story written by Karen and Christian Bygott (her younger son) (both founders of IOT) to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare and the 180th anniversary of the death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

And what is IOT? International Opera Theater! It was founded in 2003 with two locations, Philadelphia and Città della Pieve, according to the two parental souls of Karen which were divided between Italy and the United States. IOT seeks to recover the role of spontaneity in operatic work, as it was in the tradition of authentic Italian Renaissance “commedia dell’ arte”, when opera was founded in Florence by the Florentine Camerata.

Azaio is the land of dreams and fantasy, a secret place inside each of us that connects us to our creativity, a place populated by child characters. The bridge that once connected us to Azaio, however, has been broken, due to disuse, leaving the child characters alone and forgotten. It’s up to a Sea Captain, the famous Mariner from Coleridge’s “Rime of The Ancient Mariner”, to rebuild it, thereby redeeming himself as well as all humanity.

But the real Azaio is perhaps Città della Pieve, the place where International Opera Theater presents every year a new opera at the end of August. We arrive now at the 11th edition and this magical city has not ceased to dream about Karen and her friends.

Città della Pieve is known for being the birthplace of Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino, perhaps one of the personalities who have contributed most to the Renaissance in Central Italy. He was a great painter, able to paint people and landscapes with bright light and a softness unusual for the time, but he was also the first artist-entrepreneur. Perugino ran two workshops, one each in Florence and Perugia (sacred and profane), from which have come the likes of Raphael.

To commemorate that period of great splendor, each year in Città della Pieve is held Palio dei Terzieri 12 days of competition and medieval games to contend for a Pallium (tapestry) and the joy of living in one of the most beautiful places in Italy, in a town mostly built from clay bricks in the classic color of Tuscany and Umbria.

And finally, the icing on the cake, the work is performed in the small theater of Avvaloranti, a jewel built between 1830 and 1834 after “centuries of pressure” exerted by a local Literary Academy, born in 1590 right in Città della Pieve.

Lovers of art and music cannot but go to Città della Pieve to attend “Azaio”! Hopefully you can get to


Traveller's Guide to Italy