A graduate student in music history and prominent conductor, the Italian-Brazilian Silvio Bonaccorsi Barbato, died at age 50 on board Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Fernando de Noronha on June 1. During the mid-1990s Silvio had studied with Philip Gossett and Martha Feldman, among others. He received an MA from Chicago in 1995 and was recently making plans to return and complete his PhD. He spent many years as director of the Teatro Municipal, the leading opera house in Rio de Janeiro, and at age 25 had been the youngest conductor ever to conduct a full-length opera in Brazil. When he died he was en route to conduct and teach in Kiev.
As a conductor, Silvio championed Hector Villa Lobos while covering a wide range of repertory. Among highlights of his Latin American conducting career were performances of Turandot in 2002 with Montserrat Caballé, Robert Alagna, and Angela Gheorghiu and Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ with Rio’s combined musical forces. Outside Latin America, Silvio had conducted the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra; the Orchestra of San Remo, Italy; the Teatro Massimo Bellini (Catania); the Teatro Olimpico (Vicenza) the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra; the Washington National Orchestra (with Placido Domingo); the Sarasota Orchestra; and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (New Orleans); to name a few. He also reintroduced opera to the Amazonian interior by directing the gala reopening of the belle époque Teatro Amazonas in Manaus in 1990, a theater that had closed in 1907 with the crash of the rubber boom. At the time of his death he was permanent Director of the Symphonic Orchestra of the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro, Artistic Director of the National Theater Claudio Santoro of Brasilia and Musical Director of the Sala Palestrina of Palazzo Pamphilj in Rome.
Silvio’s other life was as a composer. He had studied composition in Brazil with Claudio Santóro and in Milan with Azio Corghi and returned to composing via ballet, film, and opera. Among his major works were the ballet Terra Brasilis (world premiere, Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janiero, 2003) and the operas O Cientista (world premiere, Teatro Municipal, Rio, 2006) and Carlos Chagas (world premiere in pocket version, Sala Palestrina, Palazzo Pamphili, Rome, 2008). When he died he was carrying with him the manuscript of a third opera, Simon Bolivar, scheduled to premiere later in 2009. Before his death, he was awarded the Cultural Medal by the Brazilian government.
Silvio is remembered by fellow students and teachers at Chicago for his ebullient, friendly nature and lively interventions in class. Away from the podium, was renowned for “conducting” the pans in his kitchen. He is survived by his son Daniel, his daughter Elisa, his former wife, Paula Prates, and his partner, violinist Antonella Pareschi.