Bayreuth's Wagner festival has opened amid accusations of hypocrisy over a singer with a Nazi tattoo. The curtain rose on "The Flying Dutchman" without Evgeny Nikitin, who had been engaged for the title role.
After Nikitin's pullout, the festival's organizers were left with just four days to find a new lead singer. The South Korean Samuel Youn will perform the part. Nikitin had the swastika tattooed on his chest when he was 16, although it was later covered up by another design.
The issue touched a nerve at the festival, which is trying to live down the friendship between the Wagner family and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Nikolaus Bachler, head of the Munich opera, accused the festival of hypocrisy in letting Nikitin go.
Katharina Wagner, 34, and her half sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 67, released a statement saying that Nikitin's withdrawal was "fully in line with our policy of completely rejecting Nazi ideology in any shape or form."
The festival exclusively performs the passionate musical stories composed by Richard Wagner in the 19th century, and opera lovers wait up to 10 years to obtain a rationed once-in-a-lifetime ticket to hear a single performance. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the lucky ones in an opening-night audience packed with VIPs.
The government-funded festival has always had a Wagner in charge throughout its history.
mkg/mz (dpa, AFP)