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'Nazi Tattooed' Opera Singer Denies Swastika Tattoo [VIDEO]

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Aug 02, 2012 04:40 PM EDT |

Evgeny Nikitin

Evgeny Nikitin (Photo : Youtube Video Stillcut)

Opera singer Evgeny Nikitin, who was pulled out of the Bayreuth Festival over the Nazi tattoo scandal, said it was not a swastika.

The Russian bass-baritone was shown on television and claimed that what appeared to be a swastika tattoo 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 Nikitin in a telephone interview with New York Times from his home in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

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"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 added.

The 38-year-old singer resigned from the lead role of the "Flying Dutchman" last month, just days before its premier, after an old footage of him with swastika tattoo on his chest surfaced in German television.

At that time, he said getting the tattoos as a teenager was a serious mistake and he was "not aware of the extent of the confusion and hurt that these symbols would cause."

But in a statement released Wednesday through New York's Metropolitan Opera, Nikitin said, "While it is true that I have had a varied artistic life, including an interest in heavy metal music and Scandinavian mythology, which was the inspiration behind the tattoos I have on my body, it is inaccurate to state that I ever had a swastika tattoo. In fact, the tattoo that has been called into question and that was photographed in 2008 was still in progress at the time."

"I have absolutely no affinity for or connection to any neo-Nazi or fascist movement, nor have I ever in the past. Nazism in particular has been the source of great personal grief and loss. My two grandfathers were both killed by Nazi forces during World War II," he added.

Nikitin called the withdrawal from Bayreuth Festival "the most disturbing event of [his] artistic career."

When asked why his original statement seemed to admit he once had the swastika tattoo, he answered, "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 also said when he first blamed himself for once having the tattoo, he was referring to all his tattooing, which he began as a teenager.

The Bayreuth Festival was founded in 1872 by Richard Wagner, 19th century German composer who is known for his association with anti-Semitism and Nazism. During the Nazi era, Wagner was a favorite composer of many Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler.

The annual festival dedicated exclusively to Wagner's operas is currently run by Wagner's great granddaughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.

When Nikitin's withdrawal was decided, The Bayreuth Festival had stated that the decision was "fully in line with our policy of completely rejecting Nazi ideology in any shape or form."

Nikitin still remains scheduled to sing in a new production of Wagner's "Parsifal" at the Metropolitan Opera in February next year.

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