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Curtain Closes on Amato Opera’s Final Performance

After 61 seasons, New York City's Amato Opera is staging its last performance on May 31 as its 88-year-old director, Tony Amato, retires. Ray Suarez reports.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, an opera company takes its final bow. Ray Suarez has our story.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    For 61 seasons, singers have taken to the tiny stage at the Amato opera company in lower Manhattan, delighting audiences with a surprisingly big sound and an even bigger passion for the music.

    But all of that is about to come to an end. Earlier this year, 88-year-old Tony Amato announced he’s ready to retire and close the institution that bears his name.

  • TONY AMATO, founder, Amato Opera:

    I want to thank all you wonderful patrons, because it was you who made this company possible all these years. Thank you.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Amato, a son of an Italian grocer, was raised with both a keen business sense and a love of singing opera. At the end of the World War II, he realized he couldn’t make it financially by performing, but he could by teaching. So he and his young bride, Sally, established a place where his students could get exposure before a live audience.

  • TONY AMATO:

    I was lucky enough to always get many singers, talented singers who were willing to sing and learn under my direction.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    They needed an audience. They needed a place to sing. You needed singers.

  • TONY AMATO:

    And the public needed a place where they could see opera at a reasonable price. And we gave them this opportunity.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Tony directed and conducted; Sally sowed costumes, paid the bills, and often took to the stage herself. Originally, they passed a hat for donations. Later, they charged $4 a seat, the price a young reporter named Suarez paid to see his first opera and write a profile of the company 31 years ago.

    When Italian immigrant Tony Amato brought his young company to the Bowery in the early ’60s, it was known around the world as New York’s skid row. When the Amato opera closes its doors at the end of may, it will leave a Bowery that’s home to hipster nightlife, multimillion-dollar apartments, and chic boutiques.

    But while the neighborhood has become trendy, Amato has taken great pains not to update the operas much.

  • TONY AMATO:

    I have not been the kind of director who works on gimmicks. I work on the script and what the music tells me. I try to stay with the composer.

    And some people might say, “Oh, he’s an old-fashioned director.” Uh-uh. You could create all your life if you stick to the original book and script. You could keep on creating beautiful things.

    We separate most of our 15th century together or 18th century.

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