A Russian singer scheduled to play the lead in Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" at the annual Bayreuth festival has pulled out of the event following news he had Nazi-related symbols tattooed on his body.
Bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin, 38, from St. Petersburg's prestigious Mariinsky Theater, was scheduled to make his debut this week at the famed festival.
A German television program on Friday showed old footage of a bare-chested Nikitin playing drums, and a partly covered swastika tattoo was visible. Bayreuth festival organizers said Nikitin made his decision to withdraw on Saturday after being questioned by a German newspaper about the significance of his tattoos.
"I was not aware of the extent of the irritation and offense these signs and symbols would cause, particularly in Bayreuth given the context of the festival's history," Nikitin said.
The singer explained that he felt getting the tattoos, which he did in his youth, had been a "major mistake" and that he hadn't foreseen the "extent of the confusion and hurt" they could cause.
Festival organizers issued a statement saying they backed the decision. "[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," it said.
On Sunday, they announced that South Korea's Samuel Youn, who has been a regular in Bayreuth since 2004 and served as an understudy to Nikitin, has been chosen as his replacement.
The curtain is set to rise on the "The Flying Dutchman" on Wednesday.
The Bayreuth Festival is the world's oldest summer music festival. It was founded by Wagner, himself an anti-Semite. Wagner was Adolf Hitler's favorite composer.
"The Flying Dutchman," Wagner's first mature opera, is the only new production at this year's festival, which runs from July 25 to August 28. The opera tells the story of a ship captain doomed to sail the seas for all time.
tm, ng/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)