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Amato Opera

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Title: Amato Opera  
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Subject: Arts organizations established in 1948, Circle in the Square Theatre, La battaglia di Legnano, Monica Yunus, Thérèse (opera)
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Amato Opera

The Amato Opera's home at 319 Bowery in New York City, May 2009

The Amato Opera was an opera company located in the East Village neighborhood of the Manhattan borough of New York City. The company was produced by the husband and wife team of Anthony and Sally Amato and presented opera on a small scale with a reduced orchestra at low prices. Over its 61 years in existence, it encouraged and trained many young singers.


  • Early years 1
  • Later years 2
  • Closure 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early years

The company was founded in 1948 by husband and wife team Anthony (July 21, 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. In the early productions, he often cast students from his opera classes at The America Theatre Wing, where he was the Director of the Opera Workshop. These was no admission charge for the company's early performances, because union rules prohibited it. Instead, during the intermission the Amatos would "pass the hat around" for contributions. Sally acted as costumier, ran lights and box office and managed publicity and business matters. Under the alias Serafina Bellantoni, she sang in productions for over fifty years.[1]

Their first production, Rossini's The Barber of Seville, was mounted in the auditorium of Our Lady of Pompeii Church at Bleecker and Carmine Streets.[2] The following week, the company produced Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. The company used many other locations in its early years, including the Kaufman Auditorium of the 92nd Street Y, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Washington Irving High School auditorium.

In 1951, the company moved into its first permanent home at 159 Bleecker Street. In its new 299-seat theatre, the company gave four performances during nearly every weekend of the year. The company's repertory soon spanned 21 different operas, and it gave over 1,296 performances at the theatre. Productions were occasionally presented in nearby cities, such as New London and New Haven, Connecticut, and abridged children's performances were also given at The Town Hall. The Bleecker Street theatre closed in 1959, but the company continued to perform at other venues, including The Town Hall and 126 West 23rd Street.[1]

Later years

Amato found a new permanent home in 1964 in a four-story building, next to a gas station and near the famous rock club CBGB, at 319 Bowery near Second Street, a former Mission House and restaurant supply store, which was converted into a theatre with rehearsal and storage space, 107-seats, a 20-foot stage and a tiny orchestra pit.[1]

Each season included five or six different operas, typically a mix of comedies and tragedies, and the repertory eventually expanded to over 60 operas.[2] Each opera ran over five weekends, and the company used multiple rotating casts. Amato also mounted Saturday morning Opera-In-Brief performances. Aimed at children, the Opera-In-Brief performances are full-length short operas or abridged versions of longer operas interspersed with narration. 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.[2] PBS made a documentary film about Amato in 2001 called Amato: A Love Affair With Opera.[3] 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."[4]

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.[5] Anthony Amato announced the planned closure on January 10, 2009, before a performance of The Merry Widow. He told The New York Times, "Now, with Sally gone, I have decided that it is time for me to start a new chapter in my life".[6]

Performers in and former board members and friends of Amato Opera have formed two new competing opera companies: Bleecker Street Opera and Amore Opera.[7][8] In January 2013, another opera company was formed in New Jersey by a former Amato Principal Soprano: Opera Theatre of Montclair. [9]

In 2010, Amato published a book about the company called The Smallest Grand Opera in the World.[10][11] Amato died on December 13, 2011.[12]



  1. ^ a b c Diaz, Sondra Zuckerman. "From Dreams to Reality: Fifty Years of the Amato Opera", originally published in the Opera Circle newsletter in 1998
  2. ^ a b c Wakin, Daniel J. "Shock Greets Move to Close Amato Opera in May", The New York Times, January 12, 2009 (website requires registration)
  3. ^ PBS documentary: "Amato: A Love Affair with Opera", 2001
  4. ^ "About the Amato Opera", PBS website for "Amato: A Love Affair with Opera", 2001, accessed October 1, 2009
  5. ^ Smith, Steve. "Shoestring Opera’s Grand Exit", The New York Times, June 1, 2009
  6. ^ Wakin, Daniel J. "Shock Greets Move to Close Amato Opera in May", The New York Times, January 12, 2009 (website requires registration)
  7. ^ Smith, Steve. "An Opera on Both Their Houses". The New York Times, December 4, 2009, accessed March 12, 2010
  8. ^ Hull, Nathan. Official Amore Opera website, accessed March 12, 2010
  9. ^ Romeo, Lisa. "Bravo! Montclair Opera Theatre Pulls Up Curtain on First Fundraiser"[1]
  10. ^ Amato, Tony and Rochelle Mancini. The Smallest Grand Opera in the World, iUniverse, 2010 ISBN 1-4620-1049-0
  11. ^ Sugarman, Jacob. "Anthony Amato Recalls ‘The Smallest Grand Opera in the World’", The New York Times, November 11, 2011
  12. ^ Giovetti, Olivia. "Anthony Amato, Impresario of Small Grand Opera, Dies at 91",, December 13, 2011

External links

  • PBS Feature about the Amato Opera
  • NPR feature on Amato's closing
  • NY Times audio slide show about Amato
  • Amato's home sold for $3.7 million
  • Arts Beat 2009 Interview with Amato
  • Playbill article on the company's closing
  • Photo essay: Amato Opera, the smallest opera theatre in the world
  • Gallery of Amato photos, 1948 to 2001
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