Anthony Amato, the founder and artistic director of the Amato Opera, died last Tuesday at the age of 91. Through his company, Anthony Amato created a home for opera within the Village’s larger theater scene, forging a role for the immigrant community’s contribution to the arts and culture of the neighborhood.
Anthony and his wife Sally opened the Amato Opera in 1948. Amato’s Italian roots, he was born in Minori, Italy, are evident from the company’s first performances in the basement of Our Lady of Pompeii Church. The theater’s first dedicated home was at 159 Bleecker Street, a former movie house which would later become the Circle in Square Theatre. (One of many reasons why Village Preservation advocated for the theater’s preservation; sadly, it was demolished in 2004). In 1962, the Amato Opera Company moved to its longest-serving and final home at 319 Bowery. Anthony and Sally renovated the building, which had been originally constructed as a store and lofts in 1899.
In 2004, Village Preservation honored the Amato Opera with a Village Award, citing the company’s role in fostering new talent and its ability to present opera at affordable prices. The Amato was situated among other theaters and music venues along the Bowery, including CBGB’s, the Bouwerie Lane Theater, and the Bowery Ballroom.
The Amato Opera operated for sixty-one years, until 2009, nine years after the death of Sally Amato. Before starting the Amato, Anthony worked as Director of the Opera Workshop at The America Theatre Wing, and he would often cast his students in his productions. Mr. Amato took that same spirit with him to his own company, allowing emerging talent to participate in full-length opera productions. Operas were also made accessible to a working class audience. According to the New York Times, “tickets cost $1.80 early on; in 2009, they were still only $35.” Both Anthony and Sally certainly worked hard to keep their ticket costs down. Both served in many roles, including talent, stage director, broom pusher, and concession seller.
More about Anthony Amato and the Amato Opera can be found in the New York Times.