Mr. Amato formed the semi-professional company with his wife Sally in 1948, and ran it for 61 years out of a small, narrow space—an incongruous artistic presence sitting among men's shelters and shady bars. He wore many hats, including director, music director, prompter, vocal coach, diction coach, a ticket-taker, a costumer, a lighting designer and sometimes performer. The company had a repertory of more than 60 operas, and, while many of its performers were well-meaning, earnest amateurs, the troupe did produce a number of performers who went on to professional success, including George Shirley, Neil Shicoff and Mignon Dunn. Antinio Amato was born on July 21, 1920, in Minori, on the Amalfi Coast, in Italy. He moved to New Haven with his family when he was seven. Smitten with opera, he left a job as a butcher to perform with regional and summer stock opera companies. He ran an opera workshop at the American Theatre Wing, where many of his students were returning servicemen. He conceived Amato Opera to give them a place to perform, reported the New York Times. Its first opera was Rossini’s Barber of Seville. It opened on Sept. 12, 1948, in the basement of Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Greenwich Village. The troupe moved into its Bowery home in 1964.
Mr. Amato this year published a memoir, "The Smallest Grand Opera in the World." Mrs. Amato died in 2000, at 82; Mr. Amato disbanded the company in 2009. He sold the four-story building the opera worked out of for $3.7 million—a mark of how the once run-down neighborhood had changed from a place that could support a quixotic enterprise like Amato into a trendy and costly hot spot.