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alissa grimaldi, 71, opera singer, new york city

ageist EDITORS | october 5, 2017

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Opera is intrinsically dramatic, but to have a decades-long career in it, one needs to have a steady drive, passion and an understanding that there really are no shortcuts. It’s about persistence, hard work and the confidence to push forward.  The rare people who are able to re-evaluate their skill set and adjust as they grow are the ones who are still at the top of their game decades after the others have dropped to the wayside.

There’s something to be said for finding your purpose at a young age. Not all of us do, of course. Alissa Grimaldi was 10 when she decided she was going to be an opera singer. And, with very little interruption, it’s exactly that she’s done since. She has had the lifelong confidence to listen to her inner voice.  

“You have to recognize your calling,” she says. “Sometimes it finds you no matter where you try to hide. Give yourself up into it. You have to, knowing that there’s something else guiding you there.” 

In following her passion, she picked a career that rewarded age, especially as she began discovering her knack for teaching. She herself benefited from a teacher who taught her how to master the turn that occurs in a singer’s voice once they reach their 40s, 50s and 60s. “As you get older, you need to adapt,” she says. 

As a teacher, she’s specialized in counter-tenors, and bounced around Massachusetts, Maine and California with her second husband — a marriage that ended because he wanted her to quit singing. She was busier than ever, and he didn’t like that. Instead, she moved to New York where the going was tougher.

“I’ve never worked this hard in my life,” she says. “I came here when I was 60 and nobody knew me.” 

Bit by bit, she got students. She made peace with the fact that she had traded in a house in the Sierras in California for a significantly more cramped New York apartment. And she threw herself into it. 

Alissa thought she would, like most singers, be finished by 65. “You can’t pay that much attention to the age number; it just limits you. I’m singing better now than in my entire life. I’m lucky to be a late bloomer.”

To be a great singer, you cannot be self-indulgent. Age helps, as it brings discipline that so many of the younger singers don’t yet have. “To be an opera singer at a later age means you need to take care of yourself — your body, your voice are your instrument.”

She has no intention of stopping doing the work she loves. “When you stop working and exploring you die. You don’t have any goals,” she says. “I just feel that for some reason I was gifted with a great technique and a great teacher and I’m supposed to be out there. And for some reason that’s needed.”

As we often hear, it’s about having — and holding onto — a sense of purpose.