Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Memoriam: Co-founder of the Amato Opera, Anthony Amato 1920-2011

Anthony Amato. Photo © Harald Schrader
Anthony Amato, co-founder of the Amato Opera, died on Tuesday morning at the age of 91. The news was initially posted to Facebook this afternoon by former Amato employee and director of the Amore Opera, Nathan Hull.

For over six decades, the Amato Opera, formed by Amato and his wife Sally Bell Amato, was a fixture on the Bowery and in the East Village arts scene. After its inaugural production of The Barber of Seville in Our Lady of Pompeii Church on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets in 1948, it had stints at the 92nd Street Y, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Washington Irving High School, 159 Bleecker Street and the Town Hall. The company finally settled in a postage-stamp–sized building next to CBGB's in 1964, where it operated continually until it closed in 2009.

Against the posh spaces of City Center and Lincoln Center, the Amato Opera was a feisty diamond in the rough, making grand opera thrive in a theater that seated 107 and contained a mere 20-foot stage. Entrances and exits were often made by running around the building from lobby to stage door entrance and back again and costume changes were known to take place in the theater’s adjacent gas station. It was part of the draw of the company—you couldn’t help but feel a warm, tingly glee in the Momus scene of La bohème, sitting mere inches away from the bohemians, no matter how many times you may have seen the opera in various settings grand and small.

The son of an Amalfi Coast businessman, Amato was encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue music as a simple hobby. Amato ultimately achieved both in tandem with Sally, whom he met in a production at New Jersey’s Papermill Playhouse and married in 1945. "We were in the chorus together and on the first day of rehearsal I accidentally touched her back a bit with my foot," he said of their first meeting in an interview on "She glared at me and thought I was an awful Italian." In lieu of having children, they gave birth to the Amato Opera in 1948. Tony acted as artistic director and conductor and Sally served in the Jane-of-all-trades position creating costumes, running lights, managing the box office, handling publicity and singing under the name Serafina Bellantoni. The two also made a spaghetti and meatballs that achieved cult status among the Amato singers.
This story reminds me of another impresario of the "old school" - Francesco Pace - founder of LA Opera.

For more coverage on the passing of Anthony Amato, visit

1 comment:

Paul Pelkonen said...

My piece on the passing of Mr. Amato: a Superconductor: Obituary: Anthony Amato (1920-2011)

And my interview with dell'Arte Opera leader Christopher Fecteau, who used to conduct at the Amato Opera.
Superconductor: The Best Little Opera House in the Bowery

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