Swastika tattoo leads to Bayreuth departure

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Russian baritone quits Flying Dutchman over Nazi insignia controversy

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A Russian singer has quit the production of The Flying Dutchman at Bayreuth following revelations that he has a Nazi-style tattoo.

Bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin, 38, was due to sing the role of the Dutchman in Wagner’s opera on Wednesday until Aspekte, a programme broadcast by the ZDF German television station, showed images of a large tattoo of a swastika on his chest – the pictures came from old footage of Nikitin playing the drums bare-chested in a heavy metal band.

Despite claims that the tattoos were done in his youth and had no political significance for him, talks with the festival organisers led to his withdrawal.  ‘I was not aware of the extent of the irritation and offence these signs and symbols would cause, particularly in Bayreuth given the context of the festival's history,’ wrote the singer in a statement on the festival’s website. ‘It was not clear to me that the symbols that I have tattooed on my chest could have any connotations or even by used by Nazis and neo-Nazis.’

Created by Wagner in 1872, the Bayreuth Festival has been centered on the composer’s work. However, the composer’s connections with Hitler (who attended Bayreuth several times) has given the festival a history that it is making considerable efforts to disassociate itself from.

Nikitin will be replaced by the Korean singer Samuel Youen.

Katy Wright