Russian Quits Bayreuth Festival over Nazi Tattoos

Saturday, July 21, 2012 - 02:00 PM

A Russian baritone who was due to sing the lead role in Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman when the Bayreuth opera festival opens next week withdrew from the event Saturday after it emerged that he once had Nazi-related symbols tattooed on his body.

A German television program broadcast Friday showed old footage of a bare-chested Evgeny Nikitin playing drums in a rock band, in which a swastika tattoo partly covered by another symbol could be seen. The festival said Nikitin made his decision amid questions from a German newspaper about the significance of some of his tattoos.

Organizers made Nikitin, 38, aware of "the connotations of these symbols in connection with German history," said a statement from the festival in Bayreuth, in the southeastern state of Bavaria. It added that his decision to pull out is "in line with the festival leadership's consistent rejection of any form of Nazi ideas."

The festival is currently led by the composer's great-granddaughters, Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner.

The Nazi past is a sensitive issue for the Bayreuth festival, which was founded by Richard Wagner in 1872.

Winifred Wagner, who headed the Bayreuth festival under Nazi rule, was a strong admirer of Adolf Hitler. During her reign, Hitler not only helped fund the festival but was allowed to meddle in artistic decisions.

In a brief statement released through the festival, Nikitin said that he got the tattoos in his youth.

"It was a major mistake in my life, and I wish I had never done it," he said. "I was not aware of the extent of the confusion and hurt that these symbols would cause, particularly in Bayreuth and in the context of the festival's history."

Displaying Nazi symbols is a criminal offense in Germany.

This year's festival is due to open on Wednesday with "The Flying Dutchman," and it wasn't immediately clear who might replace Nikitin.

The festival said the director, Jan Philipp Gloger, believes that the "artistic damage to the production is immense" and it may not be possible to repair it entirely before next week's premiere.


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Comments [13]

JM Wilson from Miami Beach

The swastika has been used by various groups for thousands of years prior to the "Thousand Year Reich". The Nazis corrupted its meaning. Sadly, this "otherwise" innocent symbol will remain soiled for a long time to come.

Jul. 29 2012 10:53 AM
Robaroni from Catskills

I applaud the German people for their inflexibility in this matter. They are making a world statement that shows with absolute clarity their position with regard to Nazism. What would the world have said if this had come out during the festival?
Wagner's music is wonderful and we shouldn't ban it any more than we should ban Tchaikovsky based on the actions of Stalin.

I agree with this decision, bravo Germany!

Jul. 27 2012 08:01 AM
Mike from NYC

This is an overblown nonsense that seems to attract attention only in the US and the Nazi-hyper-concious Germany. The past is the past, this singer wasn't appearing naked and he would have had to have a ginormous swastika tatooed on his entire body and face for any one in the audience to notice. That's why there are make up artists in theaters and costume designers. Oh, and he didn't "quit"- he was forced to resign. Utter stupidity, especially given Wagner's affiliation with the Nazis. If they are so concerned- the entire festival should be banned.

Jul. 26 2012 10:11 AM
queenofswords from Buenos Aires

This reminds me of an episode in the "Law & Order" franchise, where the cops ask a tattoo artist if he is the author of an extreme body modification found in an unidentified victim. The artist snorts disdainfully and says that he doesn´t do "job stoppers". When asked to explain, he says "Many people who come here don´t realize that one day they will want to find a job. I don´t do things that may prevent them from doing that."

I remember thinking then that many people would avoid trouble if more tattooists shared such work ethics.

Jul. 24 2012 12:58 PM
gideoncat from Blauvelt, NY

I cannot believe the lack of insight into the horrors of Nazism by today's youth. Anything prior to 1990 is a mystery to them. Sadly there are some revisionists who would like to 'humanize' Adolf. How fast we forget the horros of Nazism. When will we learn that there is evil in this world and it must be abhorred, not glorified>>>

Jul. 24 2012 11:41 AM
Mary O

Why not just remove the tatoos?

Jul. 23 2012 07:09 PM

A posthumously published Stieg Larsson novel: The Russian with the Nazi Tattoo. Idiot -- a shameful case that further mars the reputation of Wagner's magnificent music.

Jul. 23 2012 03:53 PM

I'm sure if he had a hammer-and-sickle tattoo glorifying the accomplishments of mass-murderer Stalin, he would have been lauded.

Jul. 23 2012 03:09 PM
Daniel Polowetzky from NYC

Somehow in my youth I managed to never acquire a swastika tattoo!

Poking a hole in the convertible top may be an age appropriate mistake, but a swastika is akin to bringing home roadkill!

Maybe the baritone can have his tattoo removed by one of the tattoo removal specialists providing services to prison inmates.

It is heartening to note that "The Nazi past is a sensitive issue for the Bayreuth festival". Ya think?

Jul. 23 2012 02:29 PM

While the artist in me is feeling the pain of censorship for a mistake make in youth than could be covered now, I'm grateful for people willing to take a firm stand against the mad hatred of the past so that we never have to go back there again. If only all signs of hatred were so visible and so easily eradicated.

Jul. 22 2012 07:28 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

When I studied at the University of Bayreuth, I remember being very favorably impressed that some of the school's buildings are located on the Geschwister Scholl Platz, Hans and Sophie Scholl being symbols of the humanist German resistance movement against the Nazis.

Jul. 22 2012 04:39 PM

Ah, youth.
I have neither a tattoo nor a cell phone/PDA/Kindle/Nook/beeper.

Jul. 22 2012 02:57 AM
accentpro from Valley Stream

I inadvertently discovered Nikitin's tattoos when he sang in a concert version of Anton Rubinstein's The Demon (Kirov Opera, at the Met) some years ago. Sitting in the Balcony and using 8x-20x powered binoculars, I saw that he had (and still has) a spider web tattoo on the top of a hand. He wore a large silver ring, with a skull or devil as the signet. I noted that in the recent Boris Godunov at the Met, Nikitin's costume included gloves.

Jul. 22 2012 01:49 AM

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