Russian singer Yevgeny Nikitin quits the Wagnerfest after German media discover a swastika tatoo on his chest

Russian opera singer Yevgeny Nikitin has withdrawn from the Bayreuth festival over controversy sparked by a tattoo of a swastika on his chest. Nikitin was due to sing the lead in The Flying Dutchmanlast Wednesday but has bowed out after discussions with the Festival’s organisers.

Germany’s Nazi era is a touchy topic for Bayreuth, which only produces operas by Richard Wagner, a composer beloved by Adolf Hitler, who was a regular visitor to the Festival.

In a statement released by the Festival, the bass-baritone said: “I was not aware of the extent of the irritation and offence these signs and symbols would cause, particularly in Bayreuth given the context of the festival’s history. I had them done in my youth. It was a big mistake and I wish I’d never done it.”

According to reports in the German press, the tattoo shows a swastika with another image superimposed.

Nikitin is a star of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, where his tattoos have not aroused any controversy.

He was replaced in the role by the tattoo-free Korean baritone Samuel Youn.