Russian singer Nikitin says tattoo not a swastika

Russian singer Yevgeny Nikitin (file picture) 38-year-old Evgeny Nikitin dropped out of the lead role in the Flying Dutchman opera

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A Russian opera singer who pulled out of the Bayreuth Wagner Festival after an image of a tattoo was shown on television says it was not a swastika.

Evgeny Nikitin, 38, dropped out of the lead role of a new production of the Flying Dutchman opera last month.

He originally said the tattoos, thought to be a swastika covered by another symbol, were a mistake of his youth.

However, in a statement he said it was "inaccurate" to say he ever had a tattoo depicting the Nazi symbol.

"While it is true that I have had a varied artistic life, including an interest in heavy metal music and Scandinavian mythology, which was the inspiration behind the tattoos I have on my body, it is inaccurate to state that I ever had a swastika tattoo.

"In fact, the tattoo that has been called into question and that was photographed in 2008 was still in progress at the time," said Nikitin in a the statement released through New York's Metropolitan Opera.

The controversy was sparked when a culture programme on German ZDF television mentioned the tattoos in a report on Nikitin.

Start Quote

I have absolutely no affinity for or connection to any neo-Nazi or fascist movement, nor have I ever in the past”

End Quote Evgeny Nikitin Opera singer

"They were just part of our underground culture," he told the programme.

He later decided to resign after organisers confronted him about the images.

"Personal grief"

Nikitin has since had the New York Met release both a sketch of the tattoo and what he said was a current photo of it, which shows a star with eight points with a shield over it along with a sword and an axe.

He is scheduled to sing Klingsor in a new production of Wagner's Parsifal which opens at the Met in February 2013.

"I have absolutely no affinity for or connection to any neo-Nazi or fascist movement, nor have I ever in the past," he said.

"Nazism in particular has been the source of great personal grief and loss. My two grandfathers were both killed by Nazi forces during World War II.

Nikitin described his career as an opera singer as his "main purpose in life", adding that his withdrawal from Bayreuth was "the most disturbing event" of his artistic career.

"It is very distressing that a mistaken interpretation of a tattoo has caused the recent cancellations in Bayreuth and raised questions about my integrity as a performing artist," he added.

Nazism is a sensitive issue for the Bayreuth festival, which only shows operas by the composer Richard Wagner.

Wagner, who died in 1883, often expressed anti-Semitic views in his writings and was the favourite composer of many Nazi leaders.

Wagner's daughter-in-law, Winifred Wagner, who headed the festival under Nazi rule, was a strong admirer of Adolf Hitler.

The festival is run by his great granddaughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.

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