Swastikas and Nazi imagery have been making waves in European entertainment over the last few weeks. Madonna has been threatened with a lawsuit by the right-wing French National Front party after she showed a picture of their leader juxtaposed against an image which included a swastika during a concert outside of Paris last week. Now another European musical event has also received media attention because of scandalous imagery. An opera singer was forced to quit a German production after it was revealed that he sports a tattoo of a swastika.
Yevgeny Nikitin, a well-known bass-baritone opera singer, announced this weekend that he is dropping out of the German Bayreuth Festival. Organizers confronted the singer about the tattoo after a German television show started commenting on the body art. The show, called “Aspekte,” aired a feature about the singer in which they discussed the swastika tattoo, which sits on Nikitin’s chest.
Nikitin would have been performing in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” which is opening this coming Wednesday. The AFP quotes the singer in his response to the decision to leave the production:
I had them done in my youth. It was a big mistake and I wish I’d never done it… 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… As a result, I have decided not to appear at the Bayreuth Festival.
The Bayreuth Festival is a famous annual musical celebration, which shows only the works of Richard Wagner. He was known for making anti-Semitic comments throughout his career as an opera composer. The BBC notes that Wagner’s daughter-in-law headed the festival under Nazi rule and looked up to Adolf Hitler. Hitler claimed that Wagner was his favorite composer and was often present at the Bayreuth festival during his rule.
It’s understandable why organizers have tried to reinvent the festival over the last 50 years to direct it away from its anti-Semitic past. Jan Philipp Gloger, the director of “The Flying Dutchmen,” told AFP that the Bayreuth festival is committed to “rejecting Nazi ideology in any shape or form.” But many organizers also feel that the damage has already been done. When they found out that the singer had such imagery on his body, they immediately confronted Nikitin and asked him to step down.
Wagner wrote a number of famous and influential operas in the late nineteenth century, including “The Ring of the Nibelung” an entire series of operas that played with themes of German mythology, power and symbolism.
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