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BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Anthony Amato, founder of the Amato Opera Company, which started in Greenwich Village in 1948 and gave its last performance in 2009 in its little theater on the Bowery, died Tues., Dec. 13, at his home on City Island at age 91.
Rochelle Mancini, a former Amato Opera singer who helped the maestro write his recently published memoirs, told the online news outlet, The Local: East Village, that he died of cancer.
Anthony Amato, a tenor, and his wife, Sally Bell, a soprano, began giving performances with their students at Our Lady of Pompei Church on Bleecker St. in 1948. The first production was “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini and the second was the double bill, “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci.”
He told The Villager in 2000 that Our Lady of Pompei’s pastor would accommodate the opera whenever possible, but they also played at Washington Irving High School, whose auditorium had wonderful acoustics, the 92nd St. Y and Fashion Institute of Technology.
The company found a new home in a 299-seat theater at 159 Bleecker St. in 1951, and gave more than 1,290 performances of a repertoire of 21 operas until they had to move out in 1959.
Anthony and Sally, who met while both were singing in a New Jersey summer theater after World War II, worked in tandem. Anthony conducted and managed the company; Sally took care of the box office, sewed costumes and sang several roles.
After they lost the Bleecker St. theater, Amato Opera played other venues, including Town Hall in Midtown and a church on W. 23rd St.
In 1964, the opera found a permanent home in the four-story building next to a gas station on Bowery near Second St. The former Mission House (later a restaurant-supply wholesaler) at 319 Bowery was converted into a 107-seat theater with rehearsal room, storage space, a 20-foot-wide stage and a tiny orchestra pit.
They played as many as six different operas per season, running five or six weekends, from a 60-work repertoire. Amato also mounted Saturday morning Opera-in-Brief programs aimed at children.
The tickets cost $1.89 in 1964. By 1998, tickets were $23, and in 2008 they were $35, with discounts for students, children and seniors.
Sally Bell died in 2000 and Anthony carried on until the last performance on May 31, 2009, with “Marriage of Figaro.”
In recent years, Anthony Amato concentrated on training young singers and producing abridged operas for Manhattan School of Music students. Last month, he was too ill to read from his memoirs at the school and Mancini read passages to a gathering of students, former singers and stagehands.