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July 25, 2012 12:38 PM   Subscribe

The 101st Bayreuth Festival opened today with a new staging of Richard Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman. The celebrity audience including German Chancellor Angela Merkel were overshadowed by the sudden departure from the cast of its leading baritone, Evgeny Nikitin, who withdrew from the company four days ago after a German TV program showed film clips of the Russian singer sporting what appeared to be a swastika tattoo.

The festival at Bayreuth is unusual in that it presents only the operas of Wagner. It was founded by the composer in 1876 to premiere his week-long tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen. The directorship of the festival has always been in the hands of the Wagner family: his widow Cosima, her son Siegfried, Siegfried's widow Winifred, her sons Wieland and Wolfgang, and now Wolfgang's daughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier -- great-grandchildren of the composer. Even while Wagner was alive, he was a controversial figure due to his copious antisemitic writings, an issue made even more sensitive by Winifred's political and personal associations with Adolf Hitler.

Nikitin now says that the tattoo in question was never a swastika, but rather the preliminary stage of a heraldic design in keeping with his interest in medieval history. The Bayreuth managment, who presumably pressured the singer into leaving the production, now indicate he might be welcome to return.
posted by La Cieca (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Since the swastika is outlawed in Germany, could he be arrested for appearing shirtless on stage?
posted by Egg Shen at 12:47 PM on July 25, 2012


My eyes are very, very old, but man - that does look like a swastika with a knight's helmet and some sort of heraldry over it. The way it looks now is a cover-up to hide said swastika.
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:51 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The relevant part of the German criminal code is section 86 and 86a on dissemination of propaganda material of unconstitutional organisations and the use of symbols of same.

The section doesn't seem to explicitly cover tattoos but I guess it could be applied mutatis mutandis, in which case he could be hit with anything from a wrist slap over a fine to three years in jail.
posted by brokkr at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think he suddenly came to the realization that a giant swastika tattoo might hurt his job prospects.
posted by found missing at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Symbolic Weight: In June 2008, Nikitin wrote an autobiographical essay for the St. Petersburg magazine “Dog” (Sobaka) which sheds further light on the Russian singer’s body art and world-view.
posted by mykescipark at 12:59 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The rune symbol "Algiz" on his chest is also a common white power neo-nazi symbol.
posted by cazoo at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2012


And the Tiwaz rune.
posted by raygirvan at 1:04 PM on July 25, 2012


A screenshot of his tattoos. The Swastika appears to be painted over, by what exactly is hard to say. The sign on the left side of his chest is an Algiz or "life rune", also a nazi-symbol and actionable under 86a.
posted by ts;dr at 1:04 PM on July 25, 2012


ah, cazoo has beat me to it.
posted by ts;dr at 1:05 PM on July 25, 2012


And yes, you can go to prison for this. Here is a case of a german nazi going to prison for 6 months for not covering or removing the SS runes on his fingers.
posted by ts;dr at 1:08 PM on July 25, 2012


On a different note, I highly recommend Stephen Fry's documentary Wagner and Me
posted by ts;dr at 1:17 PM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


ts;dr: "Here is a case of a german nazi going to prison for 6 months for not covering or removing the SS runes on his fingers."
Well, yes, but that's an unemployed drunkard with about 20 former verdicts to his name.

It does however demonstrate that as long as he keeps a shirt on, Nikitin is in the clear (legally, at least). The tattoos as such aren't illegal but displaying them is.
posted by brokkr at 1:24 PM on July 25, 2012


How does this contradict what I wrote? Egg Shens question was:
"Since the swastika is outlawed in Germany, could he be arrested for appearing shirtless on stage?"
The answer is yes: If shown in public, you can go to prison. The likelihood will of course depend on your previous record, as with all offenses.
posted by ts;dr at 1:30 PM on July 25, 2012


That's not a very good cover-up (or a very good cover story). On the other hand, I'm not going to judge the guy without knowing more; he could've been into neo-nazi stuff when he was younger and since outgrown it, which could maybe explain the cover-up.

Also, if you look at it now, it's significantly more covered up.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:34 PM on July 25, 2012


All of which once again makes me wonder about the mindset of Russian neonazis (not necessarily this guy): yeah, let's emulate Hilter and rid the world of subhumans ...like us? It's what he would've wanted!
posted by MartinWisse at 2:28 PM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


ts;dr: "How does this contradict what I wrote?"
It doesn't, I was just pointing out that the likelihood of Nikitin going to jail over this is minuscule.
infinitywaltz: "... he could've been into neo-nazi stuff when he was younger and since outgrown it, which could maybe explain the cover-up. Also, if you look at it now, it's significantly more covered up."
From what I read in the local press he claims he was young and stupid and into heavy metal; tattoos were a subculture shibboleth and I would guess swastikas and runes are fairly common in the repertoire of Russian tattoo parlours. Whether I find that a satisfying explanation I don't know, but I am firmly convinced that nothing is gained by continuing to treat people as pariahs after they become older and wiser. See also.
MartinWisse: "All of which once again makes me wonder about the mindset of Russian neonazis (not necessarily this guy): yeah, let's emulate Hilter and rid the world of subhumans ...like us? It's what he would've wanted!"
Well, Nazis have never been known for their logical prowess.
posted by brokkr at 2:52 PM on July 25, 2012


I recommend Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival by Frederic Spotts for anyone interested. He goes through the history of how Wagner started it, and traces the changes through the generations, including how to deal with the Nazi issues. Weiland Wagner's stagings were pretty revolutionary at the time, by doing away with almost all the scenery and costumes, to allow the works to be perceived anew without all the Germanic-myth trappings.
posted by dnash at 3:00 PM on July 25, 2012


I would imagine that, for a Russian, use of Nazi symbolism would be one of the most powerful of all ways of saying "Fuck you, Dad!"
posted by TheRedArmy at 3:26 PM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


unusual in that it presents only the operas of Wagner.

There's some pretty great music there, if you can just filter out all the singing. (Not unusual for operas.)
posted by Twang at 5:09 PM on July 25, 2012


Beyreuth, Wagner and Anti-Semitism. A handy timeline.

A quick retrospective will provide some context: Wagner, like much of European society from at least the Middle Ages onward, was clearly and unashamedly anti-Semitic, despite having many Jewish friends. Here’s a brief, if incomplete, timeline of Bayreuth, Wagner and anti-Semitism.
posted by Cuke at 10:51 PM on July 25, 2012


"Munich opera chief Bachler said: "It is dishonest that the foolishness of a 16-year-old rock singer, who has long regretted his actions and tried to undo them, is being punished by the Wagner family.
"They are clearly pointing the finger at someone else because they have a problem with their own past," the statement said.
Nikitin not only clearly regretted the incident but had expressed repentance as well.
"Repentance that the Wagner family have never expressed in the past 50 years," said 61-year-old Bachler who is an Austrian national."
posted by iviken at 2:15 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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