Nikitin was scheduled to sing the title role in Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman at the opening of the 2012 Bayreuth Festival, which would have made him the first Russian in history to assume an opening title role there. But he withdrew days before the festival after tattoos on his chest were shown by German media in still images from a video shot in 2006 or 2007. These suggested Nazi sympathies, which the singer subsequently denied. The main controversial tattoo in the video still images, a partly covered swastika, had been completely covered by a large 8-pointed star design by the time of the Bayreuth withdrawal. Nikitin released at least two conflicting statements about the matter. First, at Bayreuth, he described the tattooing as a "mistake of youth" made when he was 16 years old. Second, via the press office of the Mariinsky Theatre, he explained that a swastika never had been his intention and that the 8-pointed star had been assembled in stages.