Opera star quits over Nazi tattoos

23 July 2012, 12:19 | Updated: 18 September 2014, 15:27

Days before opening night, Yevgeny Nitikin has pulled out of the Bayreuth Festival in Germany after his Nazi tattoos were shown on TV, prompting his resignation.

A Russian opera singer with Nazi tattoos across his chest was forced to pull out as the star of this year’s Bayreuth Festival just days before the opening performance. Bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin was due to play the Dutchman in Wagner’s opera, The Flying Dutchman, on 25 July, until a German TV programme drew attention to his body art.

Photos of the singer show tattoos on his chest resembling Nazi symbols. One which looks like a swastika has been covered by a newer tattoo.

Displaying Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany. Despite this, the Russian singer said he was not aware of the extent of the offence the signs might cause.

"I have been confronted with questions about the tattoos, their background and their meaning," said Nikitin. "I had them done in my youth. It was a big mistake and I wish I'd never done it.”

This is a particularly sensitive issue for the month-long Bayreuth Festival, which was founded by Richard Wagner, a composer known for his anti-Semitism and a favourite of Adolf Hitler’s. Festival organisers said they supported the singer’s resignation, in line with their consistent rejection of National Socialist thinking.

Offenbach Prize-winner Samuel Youn will play the role of the Dutchman in Nikitin’s place. German conductor Christian Thielemann will conduct the festival, which also includes Wagner’s Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal, until 28 August.