Considered by vocal historians to be one of the finest Verdi singers of the past 100 years, Amato attained the peak of his fame in New York City, where he sang with the Metropolitan Opera in 1908-1921.
Amato was born in Naples and studied locally at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Maiella under Beniamino Carelli and Vincenzo Lombardo. In 1900, he made his debut at the Teatro Bellini in Naples as Germont père in La traviata. Engagements followed in Genoa and Rome. Over the next few years he sang also in Monte Carlo, Germany, parts of eastern Europe and Argentina. In 1904, he appeared at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with the Teatro di San Carlo Company; but although well-received, he was not invited back.
He was engaged by Italy's number-one opera house, La Scala, Milan, and sang there in 1907 under the baton of the great Arturo Toscanini. His voice had matured by now into a top-class instrument and he was praised for his versatility and artistic integrity. Indeed, in 1913 he was accorded the honour of taking part in the Verdi centenary commemoration at the Busseto Theatre. He appeared at the commemoration in La traviata and Falstaff with Toscanini conducting. Other important operatic roles which Amato sang in Italy prior to World War One included Amonasro in Aida, Marcello in La Boheme, the title part in Rigoletto, as well as Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde, Scarpia in Tosca and Barnaba in La Gioconda.
Amato repeated some of these roles at the Metropolitan Opera, where Toscanini had gone to conduct and where Amato had made his debut in 1908. He would maintain a taxing performance schedule at the Met until he left the company in 1921, appearing in a number of operatic works that he had not undertaken before. In 1910, for example, he sang in Gluck's Armide, along with Olive Fremstad, Enrico Caruso, Louise Homer and Alma Gluck. In that same year, he also created the part of Jack Rance in Puccini's La fanciulla del West, singing opposite Caruso, Dinh Gilly and Antonio Pini-Corsi.
In 1913, he created the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac by Walter Damrosch. Frances Alda and Riccardo Martin were also in the cast. He performed, too, in that year's production of Un ballo in maschera with Caruso, Emmy Destinn, Margarete Matzenauer and Frieda Hempel, and with them again in Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele. La Gioconda, with Destinn and Margaret Arndt-Ober, was also graced by his presence. Amato was especially admired as Escamillo in Carmen, supporting Geraldine Farrar, Caruso and Alda, when the opera was successfully revived in 1914. Also in 1914 he was Manfredo (opposite Adamo Didur and Lucrezia Bori) in Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re, when that new work came to New York, and in 1915 he created the part of Napoleon in Umberto Giordano's Madame Sans-Gêne, with Farrar as Catherine. In 1916, he gave the premiere American performance of the role of Giovanni in Riccardo Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini (opposite Alda and Giovanni Martinelli), and in 1918 that of Gianetto (with Farrar, Caruso, and Didur) in Mascagni's Lodoletta.
Amato's high work-rate took its toll on his voice and he retired to Italy during the 1920s due to ill-health. But in 1933, 25 years after his American debut, he appeared there again at the New York Hippodrome, singing the role of Germont père. Amato had an affinity with America and, in 1935, he was made head of studies in voice and opera at the Louisiana State University. He died at the age of 64 in the New York borough of Queens.
Amato in his prime posessed a superb high baritone voice of wide compass. Although not quite as powerful as the mighty vocal instrument owned by his contemporary Titta Ruffo, it was nonetheless large in size with a ringing top register and an exciting vibrato. Moreover, his voice was securely supported, appealing in its focus and tonal quality. It was thoroughly resonant and carrying, and masterly in its phrasing and cantabile. These qualities made Amato one of the most distinctive baritone singers of his age.
A number of outstanding gramophone recordings were made by Amato in America for HMV/Victor Records, including duets with Caruso and other stars of the Met. (Prior to his contract with Victor, he had made discs for Fonotipia Records in Italy.) His 1914 recording of "Eri tu" from Un Ballo In Maschera has been described as the best version ever recorded of this touchstone Verdi aria. Many of his other records are of comparable excellence, as can be readily discerned by listening to CD reissues of them.