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The Amato Opera, A Place that Matters

amato opera

The Amato Opera, which closed its doors on May 31st 2009, may have been called the “world’s smallest opera house,” but it was nominated to the Census of Places that Matter for having a huge impact on opera in New York. For over 60 years, the modest company located at 319 Bowery in the East Village provided inexpensive tickets to both opera-lovers and many first-time viewers. And more importantly, like CBGBs, another lost institution on the Bowery, the Amato Opera was a popular showcase where upcoming and amateur performers could earn their chops.

The opera company was founded in 1948 by husband and wife team, Sally and Tony Amato, just three years after they married. It opened with a performance of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” staged in the auditorium of Our Lady of Pompeii Church. By 1962 the company had moved to its third and final home on the Bowery. From the beginning, the Amatos had a hand in every aspect of each production – from Tony’s stage direction and lighting schemes, to Sally’s costume and set design. In addition to the familial atmosphere the couple created, with only 107 seats, the small theater offered matchless intimacy, all but eliminating the line between the audience and the performers.

This remarkably accessible company had something for everyone. Countless new viewers, young and grown, were introduced to the art form with weekly performances of an “Opera in Brief.” Running at 90 minutes these abbreviated operas were fully-costumed with musical excerpts and English narration, especially important for youngsters exposed to opera for the first time. This brilliant community outreach effort in particular illustrated the Amatos dedication to bringing accessible and affordable opera to all New Yorkers.