Anthony Amato, the founder and artistic director of the Amato Opera Theater, the scrappy, often threadbare and very rarely dull chamber opera company on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that was a mainstay of New York’s cultural life for 61 years, died on Tuesday at his home on City Island, in Bronx.
Mr. Amato, who was also the company’s stage director, music director, prompter, vocal coach, diction coach, caterer, broom pusher and emergency tenor, among other things, was 91.
The cause was cancer.
The company was founded in 1948 by husband and wife team Anthony (1920 – December 13, 2011) and Sally Bell Amato (September 27, 1917 – August 16, 2000). Tony Amato acted as artistic director, choosing the repertoire, rehearsing and conducting the operas.
Throughout its life, Amato Opera has maintained a policy of keeping prices low, charging only $1.80 a seat in 1964. By 1975 ticket prices were $3-4 and in 1998, they were $23. In 2008, tickets were $35 ($30 for students, children, and seniors), still modest compared to those at larger opera houses. PBS made a documentary film about Amato in 2001 called Amato: A Love Affair With Opera. PBS wrote, “The Amato Opera has grown famous as a testing ground for young singers; many of its performers have gone on to sing, direct, and conduct in opera companies around the world…. The orchestra is phenomenal. The sets, designed by Richard Cerullo for the past twenty years, are wonderfully designed to make the most of the Amato’s small stage. And what the theater lacks in seating capacity it makes up for in intimacy.”
Amato Opera received commendations and awards from Mayors Abe Beame, Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, and the Amatos were inducted into City Lore’s Peoples’ Hall of Fame, honored by the American Cultural Roundtable, and the Italian Heritage and Cultural Committee, in recognition for their contribution to the artistic life of New York City.
Amato Opera closed after its last performance of The Marriage of Figaro on May 31, 2009.
Mr. Amato recently completed a memoir, “The Smallest Grand Opera in the World,” published this year by iUniverse.
Note: Image courtesy of Harald Schrader.