Anna Netrebko, soon after her performances of Andrea Chénier at La Scala, talked about her son, his autism and the abandonment by his father, bass-baritone Erwin Schrott.
When I realized that Tiago was a child who was different from the others I was desperate. My best friend's son had the same problem, though his condition was worse. I said to myself: my God, how will we get through this?
He's completely another person today, but at the time… he was two years old. Now he is nine and in Vienna, where we live, he attends a normal school, and is in class with the other children.
He had difficulty in analysing his thoughts, but has made progress with this, and during my recent time in Milan, he was able to find his way home.
Tiago used to be disturbed by sudden noises, and he still covers his ears, but above all he had tantrums. He was not aggressive, but angry… he would hit his teachers at school.
He was not a wild animal, but he would scream, and once I remember that in a park I had to pull him by his feet and the other mothers wanted to call the police. By the time he was five, I was able to take him to restaurants, but before its wasn't possible.
He was cured first in New York, where we have a house. It was the Met's Peter Gelb who pointed me towards a centre for autistic children ABA. They gave him a high score of autism: from 0 to 10, he had 8, which I found excessive.
[The therapists treat him with words, not medicine. For example,] Tiago didn't want to go visit the doctor. So, the therapists took him outside the doctor's studio and said, “Inside there are doctors, do you want to see how they work?” He's like a little robot, and he wants to talk about things he likes — trains for example. He is always drawing them. He says that when he's grown up he wants to drive subway trains. The therapists also said he should mix with his peers.
[Children can be cruel] and in the early years I didn't let him play with the other children. He didn't understand. Now he has so many little friends who want to play. He has his phone, he plays with the iPad. He can do everything.
Yusif Eyvazov, Netrebko's husband who she met when they performed together in Rome, has had an important role in Tiago's rehabilitation.
Tiago understands that everyone has a role: his mother lets him get away with everything, so we play good cop, bad cop. I was once stern with him and so he slammed the doors, yelling “I hate you” at us. I walked into his room, Anna was not there, and I looked him in the eye: “Next time you do that, I'll take you by the feet and hang you from the ceiling”. From that day on our relationship changed. He began to trust me. Growing up, he realised that everything we did, we did for him.
I do not pretend to be Tiago's father… I have become so. He calls me Dad, and has decided this on his own. So, I do not consider him as my son — he is my son. The game he likes most is what he calls the three kisses: we all three have to kiss each other on the cheeks at the same time.
He's a sweet and adorable child, he's fast, he understands things quickly, and he's happy. How can you not love him!
When [Erwin Schrott] understood that he was autistic he was gone. He abandoned him, yet he sees the daughter he had with his first wife. He never calls Tiago on his birthday, never sends him a present.
If [Schrott] feels relaxed and comfortable, he might make a phone call. The last time he saw Tiago was last spring.
The interview with the Corriere della Sera was in mid-January.
I want to make two appeals. First, that the whole of Europe must provide the specialised medical centres which are lacking in the fight against this disorder. In Vienna, where I live, they told me that they could not help me, there was nothing to do as they were not equipped. Second, that with the skill of doctors, together with the kindness of the human soul, we can do wonders.
Netrebko plays a clip of Tiago:
There, does that seem like a child who's not well?
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.