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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bass Booted from Bayreuth

Bass Evgeny Nikitin loses starring role over chest tattoo.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bass Evgeny Nikitin's chest tattoo (left) has cost him a starring role at the Bayreuth Festival.
Photo from Intermezzo.
The sins of Germany's past are very much on the mind of opera-goers as the Bayreuth Festival opens next week. The big story from the Green Hill: Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin cancelled  his appearance at this year's festival, due to a tattoo that originally depicted a swastika.

Mr. Nikitin, 38 was scheduled to sing the title role in the Festival's lone new offering this season, a staging of Der Fliegende Holländer. His cancellation was announced two days ago. A replacement, Korean bass Samuel Youn as named yesterday for the new production, which opens July 25.

A tattoo on Mr. Nikitin's chest originally depicted the symbol of Hitler's Germany, along with Germanic runes that the singer, a native of the Russian city of Murmansk, picked out in a tattoo parlor many years ago. The symbols have absolutely no political significance for me, but a spiritual one. I was never a member of a political party and am still not today," he said in an e-mail to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. 

"It was not clear to me that the symbols that I have tattooed on my chest could have any connotations or even by used by Nazis and neo-Nazis," the singer stated.

Mr. Nikitin has told several sources in the press that the tattoo was one of "many mistakes" made in his younger days in Russia, when he got his start playing drums in heavy metal bands in the chaotic days following the fall of Communism.

The story broke following a feature on German channel ZDF Television. Journalist Reinhardt Zaretsky ran a story "Heavy Metal in Bayreuth: from Rocker to Opera Star" profiling Mr. Nikitin and his days as a skin-headed drummer.

The tattoo was altered to hide the offending symbol, but the original lines are still visible through the new design. The costume designs for this new staging of The Flying Dutchman would have covered the offending symbol. It remains illegal to display the swastika in Germany.

"That is a problem in Bayreuth," Festival spokesman Gunther Philipowski told CNN. "Bayreuth has a bad history with the Nazis. It's clear that Bayreuth has to be careful about this terrible part of history and has to take a position against it."

Mr. Nikitin has enjoyed a ten-year career singing at the Metropolitan Opera, starting with a 2002 production of Prokofiev's War And Peace. In February 2013, he is scheduled to sing the role of Klingsor, the villainous magician in the company's new François Girard production of Wagner's final opera, Parsifal. It is not known at this time if this controversy will lead to a casting change.

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