Russian opera singer Yevgeny Nikitin said Saturday he had pulled out of the lead role in a new production of "The Flying Dutchman" at the Bayreuth Festival amid a row over a swastika tattoo.
A festival spokesman said bass-baritone Nikitin, who was to have made his debut at the festival opening Wednesday, had informed the management on Saturday after a television programme highlighted the tattoo on his chest.
German news agency DPA quoted Nikitin as saying, "I did not realise how much irritation and injury such signs and symbols could cause, particularly at the Bayreuth Festival."
German state television ZDF's cultural show "Aspekte" on Friday evening had drawn attention to the tattoo of the Nazi symbol, with another tattoo overlaid.
"I had these tattoos done when I was young," Nikitin, a former musician in a rock band, said. "It was one of the great mistakes of my life and I wish I had never done it."
The Bayreuth Festival, devoted to the works of composer Richard Wagner, attracts thousands of fans every year but is overshadowed by its links to Nazism, with dictator Adolf Hitler a regular visitor to great acclaim.
Nikitin's withdrawal means the festival management has only three days to find a replacement for the role of the captain of a ship doomed to sail the seas for ever until he finds love.
The brand-new production of "The Flying Dutchman", Wagner's first mature opera, by young German theatre director Jan Philipp Gloger, is to premier on the glitzy opening night.
It is this year's only new offering and will feature German star conductor Christian Thielemann, widely seen as Bayreuth's unspoken general music director, in the pit.
© 2012 AFP
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