From opera stage to porn director, ex-singer seeks to remove stigma

From opera stage to porn director, ex-singer seeks to remove stigma
The opera singer turned porn mogul Adrineh Simonian poses in the centre of Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar / AFP
Seven years ago, Adrineh Simonian bowed out of a successful career as an opera singer to produce pornography instead.

Since then, the 48-year-old from Vienna has not looked back, becoming a prominent voice for porn producers who prioritise their protagonists’ comfort and wellbeing.

With the emphasis on filming artistically and ethically, her approach fits into an increasingly popular genre known as feminist pornography, or femporn.

Makers say it promotes gender equality and seeks to dispel stereotypes in an industry plagued by sexism, disempowerment and abuse allegations.

Simonian told AFP that while the term “pornography” carried huge stigma, she tried to “make people understand that there is another side” to it.

“I really want to support those doing artistic pornography — there’s enough of the mainstream already,” she said.

By filming people who have never had sex in front of the camera before — actual couples or those who hadn’t previously met — she aims to show the real deal.

No script or instructions are given to the couples, who simply do what they enjoy. The varied depiction of sexual pleasure is meant to inspire viewers to “live their own sexuality”, Simonian said.

More than 80 films shot by her and like-minded producers are showcased on her streaming site Arthouse Vienna, which she launched last year.

Emphasising consent, Simonian says she talks to her novice protagonists at length to ensure they feel comfortable at all times.

At any point, they can change their minds about taking part and films are only released once participants have approved the final version.

Laura Meritt, founder of the Feminist Porn Award Europe, said that Simonian fits into a niche of feminist pornography makers.

“She does this wonderfully and in a very aesthetic style,” Meritt said, adding that the influence of femporn producers on the mainstream was growing, such as in the debate about ethics.

Overheard at the opera

Feminist pornography began in the 1980s. Within the last 10 years, production has picked up, said Lynn Comella, an associate professor of gender and diversity studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Witty, gregarious and with an eye-catching back story, Simonian has appeared on talk shows and in the media.

Born into a wealthy, conservative Armenian household in Iran, her family fled before the 1979 Islamic Revolution when she was four years old and started again from scratch in Vienna.

Simonian took violin and piano lessons before training as a mezzo-soprano. She later landed major roles, performing on stages from Munich and Nice, to Toulouse and the Austrian capital’s Volksoper.

But a random conversation overheard about 10 years ago changed her life. When, in mid-chitchat, a member of her opera ensemble blurted out the word “porn”, she noticed how people reacted — they all looked over — and it piqued her interest.

The singer said she began to question why the depiction of something as natural as human sexuality was a societal taboo — and whether that could be changed.

After 14 years as an opera singer, she picked up tips on how to film and edit on YouTube and embarked on a new career.

‘Really purposeful’

In one way, Simonian says, opera and feminist porn aren’t that far apart.

“What is opera about? It’s about love, about who’s pursuing who, who’s jealous, who’s cheated — it’s all about emotion,” she said.
“Pornography is also about emotion, because pornography is about sexuality and sexuality is emotion.”

Supported by her husband Wolfgang Koch, a well-known bass-baritone, she still finds she has to struggle for acceptance — and money.

After seeing that Arthouse Vienna streamed porn, she said that payment providers cancelled their deal with the company and it took months to find a replacement.

Meritt said that although consumers were increasingly expressing a willingness to pay for porn if it guaranteed everyone on set was treated well, “the number of those actually doing it, is still low”.

Studio productions are often pirated and offered for free on streaming sites. But Simonian says her new career is rewarding.

“There’s not been a single day where I’ve felt regret — quite the contrary,” she said. “I feel great doing this, and I feel that I am now doing something really purposeful.”


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