Russian singer Nikitin quits Bayreuth over swastika tattoo

Russian singer Yevgeny Nikitin (file picture) Nikitin says he regrets having the tattoo done in his youth

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A Russian opera singer has pulled out of a star role at this year's Bayreuth Festival in Germany following publicity about a swastika tattoo.

Yevgeny Nikitin was to have debuted in the lead role of a new production of the Flying Dutchman opera on Wednesday.

He said the tattoos were a mistake of his youth, but had to quit because the German media drew attention to them.

The Nazi past is a sensitive issue for the festival, which only shows operas by composer Richard Wagner.

Wagner's daughter-in-law, Winifred Wagner, who headed the festival under Nazi rule, was a strong admirer of Adolf Hitler. Richard Wagner himself often expressed anti-Semitic views in his writings.

An avid Wagner fan, Hitler was a frequent guest at the festival and helped fund it during his dictatorship.

'Underground culture'

"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," Nikitin was quoted as saying by the DPA news agency.

"I had them done in my youth. It was a big mistake and I wish I'd never done it," he added.

The tattoo shows a swastika, with another image superimposed, according to German media reports.

The controversy was sparked when a culture programme on German ZDF television mentioned the tattoos in a report on baritone Nikitin, 38, on Friday. "They were just part of our underground culture," he told the programme.

The singer decided to resign after organisers confronted him about the images, a statement on the festival's website said.

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