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Opera star pulls out in swastika tattoo scandal

The Local · 22 Jul 2012, 10:01

Published: 22 Jul 2012 10:01 GMT+02:00

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"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 bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin, 38, in a statement posted on the festival's website on Saturday. "As a result, I have decided not to appear at the Bayreuth Festival."

The Murmansk-born singer from St. Petersburg's prestigious Mariinsky Theatre, had been scheduled to make his debut on Wednesday in the title role of a new production of "The Flying Dutchman," at the prestigious opera festival dedicated exclusively to Richard Wagner’s works.

But after a German television programme drew attention to the singer’s controversial tattoos - one of which includes a Swastika motif, now hidden under other patterns - Nikitin informed organisers he had decided not to appear, leaving the production without their leading man.

German public television ZDF's culture magazine Aspekte aired a feature on Friday about the Nazi symbol tattooed on Nikitin's chest. After this, said the singer, he was "confronted with questions about the tattoos, their background and their meaning."

The festival organisers said in their own statement that on hearing about the reports they immediately sought a meeting with Nikitin.

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

Nikitin's "decision to pull out of the role is fully in line with our policy of completely rejecting Nazi ideology in any shape or form," the statement said, adding that the festival organisers "accepted the full consequences" of the last-minute move.

Nevertheless, the production's director, Jan Philipp Gloger, said the artistic damage would be "immense, even when a replacement has been found and familiarised himself with the production."

On Friday, the Bild daily ran an interview with the heavily-tattooed Nikitin, who was once a drummer in a Russian heavy metal band, headlined "Would You Go To The Opera With This Man?" But that article did not pick up on the Nazi associations of his tattoos.

Nikitin will now leave Bayreuth under a cloud, wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung on Saturday. And with the curtain due to go up on the festival and the new production of "The Flying Dutchman" on Wednesday, organisers effectively have just three days to find a new singer for the title role.

The Bayreuth Festival, the world's oldest summer music festival, was founded by Wagner, a notorious anti-Semite, as a showcase for his operas and he had the famous Festspielhaus theatre built to his own designs.

Wagner was Adolf Hitler's favourite composer and after the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Hitler became a regular guest at the Festspielhaus built on Bayreuth's fabled "Green Hill."

Story continues below…

The Nazi dictator also became a close friend of Winifred Wagner, the widow of the composer's son Siegfried. Hitler was affectionately called "Uncle Wolf" by her sons, Wolfgang and Wieland, who went on to reinvent and re-launch the festival after the end of World War II.

While Bayreuth's heads Katharina Wagner, 34, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 67, have pledged to open up festival archives to independent historians to fully explore its Nazi past, the topic remains extremely sensitive.

The glitzy opening night is also traditionally attended by Germany's political and social elite - the appearance of a singer brandishing Nazi tattoos would have been a huge embarrassment.

AFP/DAPD/The Local/jlb

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:27 July 22, 2012 by Herr Rentz
I think that's a gross over-reaction. The tattoo is covered by clothing, it's been inked over by another tattoo, and the guy is repentant. We all do stupid things in our youth and this was a long time ago for this guy.

Is he attending National Socialist meetings? Is he donating money to the NPD? Does he have an SS uniform in his closet?
15:24 July 22, 2012 by paulspookys
Swastika has been the symbol of peace for Hindus for more than 10 thousands of years. Its name comes the Sanskrit word svasti (sv = well; asti = is), meaning good fortune, luck and well-being.

The right-hand swastika is one of the symbols of the god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the sun god Surya. The left-hand swastika usually represents thegoddess Kali, night and magic.

The Nazis adopted the swastika because it was understood as an Aryan symbol indicating racial purity and superiority. The Nazis propogated a wrong historical theory in which the early Aryans of India were white invaders.
16:45 July 22, 2012 by IchBinKönig

The National Socialists used the swastika symbol, in part, in a war against Christianity.

Just like many on the left today, Christianity stood in the way of Government and Nation being the sole oasis of comfort. Not much changes.
08:42 July 23, 2012 by hankeat

The difference between the ancient Swastika and the Nazi Swastika is that the Nazi swastika is at a slant (twisted by 45 degree angle), while the ancient swastika is rested flat.
18:10 July 23, 2012 by William Thirteen
if you examine Herr Nikitin's tattoos closely in the available videos you will see that he has a number of Rune tattoos associated German mythology which are popular with the metal music scene in Northern Europe. Whether or he has any political leanings or not is unknown at this time.
06:59 July 24, 2012 by JAMessersmith

The Swastika is a common symbol that has been used throughout the world, not just in India. In Germany it dates back to the Migration Period (called the fylfot). Gothic tribes carved swastikas into their swords and spearpoints, and the Vikings used it to decorate jewelry. There are also theories connecting it to Thor's Hammer and Odin's Cross.

And as for the Aryan Invasion theory, the Nazis believed the ancient Aryans (i.e. Indo-Europeans, as we call them now) originated in Scandinavia, which is false. Scientists now believe the Indo-European/Indo-Aryan culture originated on the Pontic Steppe/Caucasus region of southern Ukraine and Russia, and, from there, first spread southward into Iran and Northern India, and much later on northward into Russia and Europe. The evidence for this can be found in the R1a genetic haplogroup, that is found through Europe, Central Asia, Iran and Northern India, and the Indo-European language group, which is spread along similar lines. Similarly, some of the oldest evidence for fair hair was found in Kurgan culture on the Pontic Steppe, so it is possible the genes for blond hair were spread from there (rather than from Scandinavia or the Baltic countries, where the highest concentration of blond hair is today). But the ancient Aryans were likely as diverse as modern Indo-Europeans are now (i.e. all types of hair color, eye colors, etc), and there's no way of knowing whether their migrations were hostile, or peaceful, abrupt, or gradual. That's mostly wild speculation, garnered from religious texts that speak of golden haired Indra conquering swarthy Asuras. But, of course, that's not to be taken literally.
04:32 July 25, 2012 by wenddiver
The outside trim on the Department of Agricultuer building in Washington, DC is a series of interconnected Swastikas, the thunderbird division of the US Army used it too, prior to the Nazis. The point is, I think we have to understand the context, which in this man seemed to be youthful rebellion.

It's kind of ignorant to hold that against him for the rest of his life. I say give the Ruskie a break, if I had grown up under Communism (the worst system ever), I'd probably have a Swastika tatoo also! The man seems to hold a job and not ask anybody for anything, I say welcome to the melting pot.
13:56 July 25, 2012 by zeddriver

I agree with your post. If he has kept his nose clean with the law concerning bigotry. Then let him move on from his past.

this does clearly demonstrate one thing though. Think long and hard before getting a tattoo and if you do get one. Place it carefully. Decisions that you make can and do effect you and your future.

I told a friend that was looking at tattoo's. To try and imagine himself with that ink when he is 80, Full of wrinkles and loose skin.

And yes. I do have a tattoo. I picked something colorful but benign (a dragon) that is covered even with a short sleeve shirt.
18:52 July 27, 2012 by tychonaut
I think it's strange that people go into so much detail about "where" the swastika originated.

It's a pretty damn basic glyph. After your "level 1s" (circle, square, line, triangle, "plus"/cross, ..) it's essentially the next level up ... ("level 2" would include ladder, stepped-pyramid, wave/snake/"s", "T" ..)

Give *any* culture enough time and some creative wunderkind is going to come up with the idea of an "x" with the ends of the legs bent back in on themselves.

It's not a bloody Mandlebrot pattern. Sheesh.
20:15 July 30, 2012 by friedenstempel
Clearly unacceptable. Swastika is a no-go.

Also keep in mind that his name Nikitin reminds Germans of a Stalinist propaganda singer with "peace concerts". As a tasteless reference to the massive Russian rape in Eastern Germany he slured German song, like Heideröslein, a rape song.
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