Singer Says Swastika Tattoo is ‘Not Political’

Munich Opera House Calls Bayreuth Firing 'Dishonest'

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 10:00 AM

Yevgeny Nikitin Yevgeny Nikitin (Claudia Levetzow)

Yevgeny Nikitin, the Russian singer who withdrew from the opening of Germany's famed Bayreuth Festival after it was discovered he had a swastika tattoo on his body, has issued a statement explaining his body art.

In a message on the website for St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, where he is a rising star, Nikitin asserted that he does not belong to any political groups, from either the left or right: "National Socialism in all its manifestations is deeply disgusting to me," he said. "My two grandfathers perished in the Great Patriotic War! I declare categorically that my tattoos do not relate to Nazi symbolism."

The bass-baritone maintained that the swastika was actually a symbol connected to Nordic sagas, of which he had been "fascinated at the time."

Nikitin goes on to say that the German television report containing an old video of his rock band showed the tattoo in an unfinished stage. “I repeat, this was an intermediate stage, the tattoo was unfinished. I never wanted to have a swastika on my body and even more so would not pose in front of a camera like this.”

The singer has since covered up the offending image with a different tattoo. But after a newspaper asked the Bayreuth P.R. department about the tattoo, Nikitin was called in for talks with the festival directors on Saturday morning. Later that day he announced that he was leaving the opening production of The Flying Dutchmen.

In an earlier statement released by Bayreuth, Nikitin said that he gotten the tattoos in his youth but did not deny that the image was a swastika. "It was a major mistake in my life, and I wish I had never done it," he said.

Displaying Nazi symbols is a criminal offense in Germany. Bayreuth, which celebrates the music of Richard Wagner, has a particularly difficult history given its troubling historical tie to the Nazi regime. Some of Wagner’s heirs befriended and associated with Adolf Hitler, who was a fan and a regular visitor to the summer festival.

The reaction to Nikitin’s departure was heated on Monday.

Nikolaus Bachler, head of Munich's influential Bavarian State Opera, was among those who came to Nikitin's defense. He blasted Bayreuth's leadership – singling out co-chiefs Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier – for their handling of the matter. "The affair is more a problem for Bayreuth and the Wagner family than for the singer," he told Agence France-Presse in a statement on Monday.

Some contended that Nikitin's tattoos were common knowledge around the world’s major opera houses and yet he was never publicly reprimanded. "Of course the tattoos are generally covered up for aesthetic reasons, but in some productions he has openly flaunted them," said the opera blog Intermezzo. "Thousands of people have seen them. No one has said anything."

But Christian Thielemann, the German maestro conducting Bayreuth's The Flying Dutchman, reinforced the criticism against Nikitin in an interview with Berlin media. "A swastika is a no-go, not only in Bayreuth. It wouldn't be acceptable in Australia, either," said Thielemann, who, along with festival co-chief Katharina Wagner, had initially invited Nikitin to audition for the part.

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Comments [7]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

THE FACT THAT RUSSIAN BARITONE EVGENY NIKITIN HAD A NAZI SWASTICA TATTOO, BUT SINCE HAS HAD IT REMOVED IS CONSOLATION AND I HOPE, NOTWITHSTANDING THIS EVENT, THAT THIS FINE SINGER WHO SANG AND ACTED KLINGSOR SO CONVINCINGLY, WILL ACHIEVE HIS PROFESSIONAL GOALS.
SOME HAVE MENTIONED HOW ECUMENICAL ONE CAN VIEW PARSIFAL SINCE SO MANY JEWISH PERFORMERS WERE FAMED PARSIFAL PERFORMERS [INCLUDING CONDUCTORS, OF COURSE] NAMING ONLY A FEW: ALFRED HERTZ, THE CONDUCTOR FOR THE 1903 MET OPERA PREMIERE IN AMERICA, DANIEL BARENBOIM, JAMES LEVINE, GEORG SOLTI, FRIEDRICH SCHORR, ALEXANDER KIPNIS, ERICH LEINDDORF, HERMAN LEVI [THE OPERA'S PREMIERE CONDUCTOR AT BAYREUTH], FRITZ BUSCH, BRUNO WALTER, MARGARETE MATZENAUER, ETC. WAGNER'S PUTATIVE FATHER WAS LUDWIG GEYER, A JEWISH TENOR, PAINTER IN OILS AND COMPOSER. WAGNER'S ANTI-SEMITISM MAY BE ASCRIBED TO THE FACT THAT OUTSIDE OF KING LUDWIG THE SECOND ALMOST ALL OF WAGNER'S FINANCIAL SUPPORTERS WERE JEWISH. LENDERS, UNABLE TO REPAY, OFTEN TURN AGGRESSIVE TO THEIR BENEFACTORS. IT IS KNOWN THAT WAGNER ADORED LUDWIG WHO MARRIED JOHANNA AND UNTIL LUDWIG GEYER DIED THE COMPOSERS NAME WAS WILHELM RICHARD GEYER. JOHANNA RETURNED HER SON'S NAME TO WAGNER FEARING THE JEWISH NAME OF GEYER WOULD JEOPARDIZE HIS FUTURE. I am an opera composer, Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. THE MET'S PARSIFAL performance concluded at 5:55 PM. In all respects sonically the broadcast was epochal considering the lack of voices the size and timbre of MELCHIOR, FLAGSTAD, SCHORR AND KIPNIS. JONAS KAUFMANN WAS AS FINE A PARSIFAL AS THE MET OPERA HAS EVER PRESENTED SINCE MELCHIOR. RENE PAPE HAS GURNEMANZ TO HIMSELF WITH HIS NOBILITY OF VOICE QUALITY, TIMBRE. KATARINA DALAYMAN, THE KUNDRY SINGS THE NOTES WITH A FLOURISH EVEN THE SOARING, HIGH TESSITURA OF THE ACT 2 SCENE WITH PARSIFAL. PETER MATTEI AS AMFORTAS MAKES THE HALLUCINATORY TRISTAN OF TRISTAN'S ACT 3 SEEM PLACID. KUDOS TO MATTEI. EVGENY NIKITIN AS KLINGSOR MENACES AUTHORITARIANLY. MAESTRO DANIELE GATTI CONVINCES US THAT SPIRITUALITY IN OPERA CAN BE AN ECSTATIC, THRILLING EXPERIENCE. THE ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS PERFORM WITH ELAN AND FULL-THROTTLE GUSTO WHERE AND WHEN IT IS APPROPRIATE. THIS WAS A TRULY MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE. I have studied voice and been coached in the Wagner heldentenor roles by legendary artists who made history with their MET OPERA PARSIFAL performnces: ALEXANDER KIPNIS AS GURNEMANZ, MARTIAL SINGHER AND FRIEDRICH SCHORR AS AMFORTAS, MARGARETE MATAZENAUER AS THE AMERICAN PREMIERE KUNDRY AT THE MET, and the buffo baritone GERHARD PECHNER as Klingor. www.WagnerOpoera.com

Mar. 03 2013 08:11 AM
DP from Staten Island

JM Wilson:

If you like the symbol so much and are concerned with its inappropriate association with Nazism, then why don't you get a swastika tattoo yourself?

Aug. 03 2012 10:52 PM
DP from Not Germany

Nitkin is an idiot at best! Is it that hard to find a baritone without a swastika tattoo? Is this Hell's Angel all the Bayreuth Festival could dig up?

Aug. 03 2012 10:46 PM
ardath_bey

Christian Thielemann said that a swastika is a no-go. Of course it's a no-go, the Germans hate to be reminded of their past. The time for Germans to be this inflexible was when the horrors of the holocaust were being committed. Hitler got 13 million votes in 1932, the lie that “we didn’t know” is just that, a lie. Germans knew, their kids knew, many still alive today. And it wasn't only Jews, thousands of gays, gypsies, the disabled, Jehovah’s witnesses, political opponents, the unemployed, the homeless and other minorities were eliminated with the complicity and help from a lot of Germans.

As for Nikitin, he's an idiot at best, a supremacist at worst.

A tattoo is known to be a permanent mark on your skin, it’s painful, expensive and time-consuming, you have to make an appointment and choose the image you’ll have to live for the rest of your life with, so it's just not a “mistake”.

Aug. 02 2012 12:54 PM
THOMAS CHRISTIAN

it's okay get over it!

Jul. 30 2012 01:04 PM
JM Wilson from Miami Beach

Swastikas go back thousands of years, long before the "Thousand Year Reich". To deny this is to repeat the propaganda we have all been taught. When will this "otherwise" innocent symbol be disassociated from same?

Jul. 28 2012 08:01 PM

Did I miss something? "The singer has since covered up the offending image with a different tattoo". If the offending image no longer exists, and the singer has apologized for his youthful indiscretion, I do not see why he was asked to leave. Bad call on Bayreuth's part.

Jul. 24 2012 05:09 PM

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