Russian Opera Singer Attempts to Explain Nazi Tattoo
The Russian singer who was pulled out of the renowned Bayreuth Festival in Germany amid controversy over his Nazi tattoo, claimed that what appeared to be a swastika body art was simply the first stage of a star with a heraldic crest.
“I am an artist, and I came up with it on my own,” said opera singer Evgeny Nikitin in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday. “It’s just my fantasy. It’s just an eight-pointed star with a shield on it, an ax, a sword crossed with a helmet on top. What is wrong with that?”
Nikitin drew international attention last month when he withdrew just days before he was set to appear at the festival in Germany, which celebrates the works of Richard Wagner.
Nikitin, 38, said that he 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.”
Established in 1872 by the composer and notorious anti-Semite Richard Wagner, the festival's reputation had long been marred by its association with the Nazi regime. Hitler reportedly attended the festival on a regular basis.
During the interview Nikitin repeated assertions he had made after the initial controversy that the tattoo had never depicted a swastika. He said the tattoo artist stopped while coloring in the sides.
“I started bleeding,” Nikitin said. He said he finally had it finished either early this year or in the spring; he could not remember exactly when, The New York Times reported.
The Bayreuth Festival, which is run by two of Wagner’s great-granddaughters, Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, issued a statement saying that Nikitin’s decision to pull out was “fully in line with our policy of completely rejecting Nazi ideology in any shape or form.”
When asked why his original statement seemed to acknowledge the image of a swastika he said, “When I told them the truth, as I am telling you right now, the administration of Bayreuth told me that we can’t publish it, because nobody’s going to believe you.”
He told The New York Times that the festival did what it had to do to “quiet things down” and preserve its reputation. He said he withdrew because he felt he could not perform well amid the “media frenzy.”
“I read the statement and said ‘fine,’ and left,” he said. “Because at that point I was so disturbed by everything else, I didn’t care. Since I was leaving, I gave them carte blanche to say what they wanted to preserve the festival.”
Nikitin, who said he had never had any connections to a neo-Nazi or fascist movement, said that he was unaware of the connotations of the swastika image, though both of his grandfathers were killed by German forces during World War II.
“It just escaped me at the time,” he said. “I was immersed in my art, my career. I wasn’t focused on the tattoo, to be honest, and what it resembled.”
“If he was a Nazi and promoting Nazism, of course we’d have a problem,” said Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, where he was set to perform. “From what I understand, and I spoke to him, he’s guilty of being naïve and ignorant. That doesn’t disqualify you from singing on the stage of the Met.”
Nikitin said that looking back, he wished he had never gotten any tattoos.
“When you’re 18 and you have this, you think it’s cool,” he said. “But when you’re 50, it starts to seem infantile. Better not to do these things.”