A Russian opera singer has pulled out of the Bayreuth Festival because of Nazi tattoos on his chest. The festival is dedicated solely to composer Richard Wagner, who was popular with Nazi leaders, and is due to kick off on July 25.

Evgeny Nikitin, 38, was due to become the first Russian to sing the lead role in Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman. However the singer chose to drop his part after local German TV showed pictures of the singer with Nazi tattoos.

Nikitin is shown bare-chested sporting a swastika tattoo, when he was a singer of heavy metal rock music.

Nikitin told the DPA news agency, that he was "not aware of the extent of the irritation and offence that these symbols would cause."

“I had them done in my youth. It was a big mistake and I wish I'd never done it,” the singer added.

A South Korean singer called Youn will take Nikitin’s part.

19th Century composer Richard Wagner was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorites. Wagner was known for expressing anti-Semitic views.