Opera singer and porn producer—two professions you virtually never encounter in one and the same résumé. But Adrineh Simonian is an exception. The former mdw student let mdw Magazine in on just why a mezzo-soprano might end a 15-year operatic career and devote herself to pornography.
“I’d never wanted to do anything other than sing, and it just felt really good being onstage.” It’s with these words that Adrineh Simonian describes her period as an opera singer, most of which she spent on the stages of the Vienna Volksoper and the Vienna State Opera. Born in Teheran and raised in Vienna, she fell in love with the piano while still a child. But it was violin that she—“quite unwillingly”—first learned, thereby driving her violin teacher to distraction.
“I was lazy and I never practiced at home. I just plain didn’t like it,” recalls Simonian. She then taught herself to play the piano and eventually began studying instrumental and voice education (IGP) with a focus on piano at the mdw. Simonian remembers the time that ensued as “one of the most wonderful periods” of her life. Her piano professor—Manfred Wagner-Artzt—was a magnificent player and teacher, she says, but she does admit to having made his life difficult, too. For while she indeed did do quite a bit of piano-playing, it wasn’t what he’d wanted her to practice. “I’ve always been someone who doesn’t let anybody tell them what to do.”
After a couple years, she switched majors, still studying IGP but with a focus on voice, and she followed that by attending Vienna City Conservatory’s opera programme. Then, in 2000, the mezzo-soprano gave her stage debut in Johann Strauss’s operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig at the Wiener Kammeroper. There followed a successful operatic career in Vienna that also included numerous guest appearances internationally. “Those years were really wonderful, but also quite difficult,” recalls the singer. It’s a fascinating profession, she says, but there were repeated phases during which she found it extremely difficult to bear the requirements and rules to which she was subject. “I only rarely met directors or conductors who actually worked together with me,” says Simonian. But she adds that when it did happen, it was unbelievably satisfying. Such cases, she says, resulted in the most unbelievable conversations that enabled Simonian to develop a good psychological profile for the role at hand—something on which she’d spend a lot of time: How does a role develop over the course of an opera? What kind of body language does the character need to have, and how can one portray emotions so that the audience actually recognises them?
But then, an overheard conversation about pornography over at the next table in the cafeteria completely transformed the 44-year-old’s life—and the topic hasn’t lost its grip on her since. Simonian asked herself just what pornography really is. Is it really the stuff you can watch for free on YouPorn? She set off in search of something else and found what she was looking for in a growing, worldwide niche inhabited by feminist porn directors such as Erika Lust and Petra Joy. Ultimately, Simonian asked herself how she might go about filming something in that vein herself—a question that laid the cornerstone for her second career. “I was so on fire about it that I taught myself all of the technical stuff and ultimately quit being a singer.” And around one year ago, her
website Arthouse Vienna went online to offer a new, feminist, and aesthetically sophisticated approach to pornography; this website is also the channel via which she distributes her own productions. “To me, feminist pornography means showing everything through a feminine gaze. It also means consistently treating those appearing in one’s films with respect and never forcing them to do anything,” explains Simonian. She says that, before, she’d never been much of a fan of feminism.
Simonian grew up during the 1980s, the heyday of feminist figures—such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon—who considered pornography rape and therefore rejected it out of hand. “They were very important in their day, of course. But there’s been lots of development since then,” she points out. Classic mainstream pornography, which features an exclusively male gaze, doesn’t interest her, says Simonian—and she also doesn’t think much of strict dogmas on set: she wants above all to explore what she calls the “psychology of sexuality”. So she now proceeds in the same way as she used to go about putting together psychological profiles for her opera characters: “Authenticity is extremely important to me. Physicality, body language. How does the body express itself?” Much of what happens in her films is up to the actors’ own decisions. Simonian works largely with amateurs and experiments with special settings. And the artist says that she’s totally fulfilled by her new calling, with no desire to return to the stage. So what advice does she have for young artists beginning their careers? To stay modest!