Russian bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin was tossed from his upcoming engagement singing Wagner at the Bayreuth Festival. It was discovered that he has had an enormous swastika tattoo on the right side of his chest and a Nazi "life rune" on his arm. (In recent years Nikitin has tried to cover the swastika up with another tattoo, though he claims in an email to a German newspaper, "It was not clear to me that the symbols that I have tattooed on my chest could have any connotations.") But in the statement released by the festival, the singer says that he "was not aware of the extent of the irritation and offence these signs and symbols would cause."
Meanwhile, Nikitin himself released a statement in Russian Monday explaining that the chest tattoo "never had anything to do with the swastika ... I never wanted to have a swastika on my body." He now claims it was always an "eight-pointed star."
But in a televised interview with ZDF, Nikitin says in English that getting those tattoos was just part of the "good, crazy things" that he did in "childhood" amid the heavy metal "underground culture" he loved. Meanwhile, an editorial in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German) charges that the festival is being cynical about the scandal, given its own historic ties to the Third Reich.
A Parterre blogger, "m. croche," spotted an interview by a Russian journalist for Germany's Deutsche Welle. The interviewee is a prominent body art artist in Berlin, who points out that the left side of Nikitin's chest is still covered with another symbol closely associated with the Nazis, the "Algiz rune." The artist says that serious tattooists in Germany follow an "honor code" and would never tattoo such a symbol (link in Russian).
Zachary Woolfe went to Bayreuth to dig deeper into this whole mess, and opens his New York Times piece with a trenchant obervation: Nikitin was at the festival to sing the title role in Wagner's Flying Dutchman — an opera "about a man with a secret, a youthful mistake that he spends a long, long time paying for." (Nikitin is still scheduled to appear in Lohengrin at the Bavarian State Opera in November and in Parsifal at the Met in February.)
Onwards, finally and blessedly, to other topics. Here's an interview in India's Deccan Chronicle with conductor Zubin Mehta, a Parsi native of Mumbai. Among the rather frank highlights: He is very keen to conduct a concert in the troubled and disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, confesses that he "never really enjoyed living in New York" [though he was music director of the NY Phil for 13 years] and that he finds audiences in China "strange ... almost 10,000 of them attend a concert and they come with their sandwiches and keep SMSing [texting]."
Daniel Barenboim's West-East Divan Orchestra was supposed to play at the Mount of Olives on July 31st in a concert arranged by UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry. The concert has been postponed indefinitely due to objections raised by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the Palestinian National and Civil Work Committee. The latter group wrote that such an event builds "normalisation bridges without acknowledging the Palestinian people's right of self-determination and the right of return, and without the refusal of its (Israeli) members to serve in the Israeli army."
In his written response, Serry counters that the concert "would have sent a strong message that Palestinians must be able to experience their cultural rights and freedoms in the unique city of Jerusalem, which the United Nations believes must emerge as the open capital of two states, living side by side in peace and security."
Speaking of politics: The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have voted to publicly oppose their state's proposed marriage amendment, which appears on the ballot this fall. The amendment intends to limit the definition of marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
Opera Australia is catching heat for not making its 2013 Ring cycle more accessible. Although it all but sold out completely within hours of going on sale, the minimum price was U.S. $600 — and priority access went to donors and sponsors. The company has not announced how much the cycle is costing them to mount, but estimates are in the U.S. $15-20 million range.
You know it's the dog days of the summer season when critics interview ushers. Here's the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Zachary Lewis on "the unsung heroes of the concert hall," who recount episodes ranging from medical emergencies to a patron snacking on a bucket of fried chicken.
Among the celebs who carried the Olympic torch in London this week was Esa-Pekka Salonen. Quoth the composer/conductor: "My whole worry was whether my pants would stay up, because the outfit was kind of one-size-fits-all. That certainly would have made things exciting!"
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