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Opera star in hot water over swastika tattoos

The statement by the bass-baritone – published by his home opera house the Mariinsky Theatre of Saint Petersburg – was his first reaction released in Russia to a scandal that threatens to overshadow a stellar career.

"National socialism disgusts me, in all its forms," said the soloist's comment on the Mariinsky Theatre's website. "Two of my grandfathers died in World War II."

Nikitin (38) considered one of the greatest young Russian opera singers, became embroiled in scandal last week after German media showed images of his chest tattoos, calling them Nazi.

The prestigious Bayreuth Festival, where he was due to sing the title role in a new production of Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman on Wednesday, said that they met with Nikitin over the reports and the singer then pulled out of the production.

Nikitin – who initially called the tattoos a regrettable mistake of his youth – said on Tuesday they had nothing to do with Nazism.

"One side of the chest there are Scandinavian runes, I was interested in the Scandinavian epics in my hard rock days," Nikitin said.

"The tattoo on the other side has never had anything to do with a swastika, it was supposed to be an eight-tip star with an central emblem that I thought up."

He said video reports of the tattoo showed it in an "intermediate stage" and the incomplete tattoo may have looked like the Nazi symbol.

"I have never in my life wanted to have a swastika on my body and would not pose to cameras in such a state," he said.

The heavily-tattooed singer has never hid his tattoos or his troubled youth in the far-northern city of Murmansk. A 2008 feature on Russia's Kultura Channel showed him drumming with a naked torso, but the swastika was not clearly visible.

The Bayreuth Festival, the world's oldest summer music festival, was founded by Wagner, a notorious anti-Semite, as a showcase for his operas and he had the famous Festspielhaus Theatre built to his own designs.

Following the tattoo uproar, Nikitin's role in the production was given to South Korean bass-baritone Samuel Youn. – Sapa-AFP

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