Among the passengers on Air France Flight 447, which disappeared June 1, was Brazilian conductor Silvio Barbato, a Spoleto Festival veteran and close friend of Emmanuel Villaume, the festival's music director for opera and orchestra.

Barbato, 50, was en route to Europe where he was scheduled to conduct, teach and attend performances, according to news reports.

In 2004, Barbato was invited to conduct Spoleto's production of Bellini's bel canto opera 'I Capuleti e i Montecchi,' which prompted then-overview critic Robert Jones, in one of his last columns for The Post and Courier, to write, "Conducting a bel canto opera is harder than you'd think, with all that rubato and accompanied recitatives. Silvio Barbato did it expertly."

Spoleto Festival General Manager Nigel Redden said the loss of Barbato was "enormously sad."

"Silvio was a very promising conductor, and the orchestra performed for him very well," Redden said.

Villaume expressed dismay.

"I don't even know where to start," he said. "Silvio was a composer and conductor, and the sweetest, most gentle soul I know in this business. He was the only colleague to whom I could talk about anything."

Villaume said he often telephoned Barbato — after good rehearsals and bad rehearsals, to discuss the stress of a conductor's day or brewing musical ideas.

"It's unbelievable, I don't understand," Villaume said. "I want to call him and ask what happened."

Barbato was born in Italy in 1959 and moved with his family to Brazil in 1970. He was music director of the Brasilia National Theatre Symphony Orchestra from 1989 to 1992, and again from 1999 to 2006. He made appearances at the Fundaço Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro and several orchestras and opera houses in Europe.

Villaume, who is artistic director of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, invited his friend to conduct the orchestra in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Villaume also provided the impetus for bringing Barbato to Charleston five years ago.

Divorced, Barbato has a son and daughter, both in their late teens or early 20s, Villaume said. At the time of the plane's disappearance, he was writing an opera about Simon Bolivar.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902 or aparker@postandcourier.com.