A Russian opera singer has been forced to pull out of a debut appearance at this year's Bayreuth Festival just days before it is due to begin in a row over Nazi tattoos.
Yevgeny Nikitin was to play the star role in The Flying Dutchman at the month-lowng music festival, but resigned after the festival's management confronted him with media reports showing the tattoos on his chest.
The issue of Nazism is a sensitive one for the festival, which is dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner – Adolf Hitler's favourite composer and a notorious anti-Semite. Hitler attended the festival on a number of occasions and ensured that it was funded during his dictatorship.
"I was not aware of the extent of the irritation and offence these signs and symbols would cause," Nikitin was quoted as saying by the German news agency DPA. "I had them done in my youth. It was a big mistake and I wish I'd never done it."
Photographs of the bass-baritone show tattoos on his chest that resemble Nazi symbols. One which looks like a swastika appears in more recent photos to have been covered by a new tattoo.
Organisers of the festival, which was conceived by the composer himself and which began in the Bavarian town in 1876, welcomed Nikitin's resignation. A statement on the festival's website said: "His decision to give back the part of the Dutchman for these reasons is in line with the consistent rejection by the festival's management of any form of National Socialist thinking."