23/07/2012 06:53 BST | Updated 23/07/2012 07:06 BST

Evgeny Nikitin, Russian Baritone Pulls Out Of Bayreuth Opera Festival, Over Nazi Tattoos (PICTURES)

A Russian baritone who was due to sing the lead role in Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the annual Bayreuth opera festival in Germany has withdrawn from the event after it emerged that he once had Nazi-related symbols tattooed on his body.

A German television programme showed old footage of a bare-chested Evgeny Nikitin playing drums, in which a partly covered swastika tattoo could be seen.

Evgeny Nikitin has withdrawn from the annual Bayreuth opera festival

Festival organisers said Nikitin made his decision to quit amid questions from a German newspaper about the significance of some of his tattoos.

The body art in question includes a large swastika on the right side of his chest and on the left a symbol sued by the SS Lebensborn project.

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In a statement released by the festival, Nikitin 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."

In an email to the Sunday German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, he added: "It was not clear to me that the symbols that I have tattooed on my chest could have any connotations or even by used by Nazis and neo-Nazis."

The Telegraph reports the festival is particularly sensitive to Nazi associations because Wagner was an anti-Semite whose English daughter-in-law, Winifred, became friends with Adolf Hitler.

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