About Carla


Mezzo-soprano Carla Dirlikov Canales has been praised by Opera Magazine for possessing a voice that “grabs the heartstrings with its dramatic force and musicality.” In 2014 she became the first singer ever to win the prestigious Sphinx Medal of Excellence, an honor bestowed upon her by Justice Sotomayor in a ceremony and concert at the Supreme Court of the United States.  In 2015 she became the first opera singer to be names as one of Foreign Policy's 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015.  This year, the University of Michigan has selected Ms Canales as a  Bicentennial Alumni Award Winner.  She is also the recipient of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts Alliance of Michigan.

Ms Dirlikov's 2016-17 season began  in Shanghai where she reprised the title role in Carmen with the Shanghai Opera.  She returned to China to perform with the China National Symphony Orchestra in a concert led by Maestro Tan Dun where she performed works of his in Chinese.    This season marks the beginning of Ms Canales residency at  the Hermitage Artist Retreat, where she will begin working on future solo projects.  Ms Dirlikov returned to her alma mater, the University of Michigan, to perform on a program honoring Justice Sotomayor, and she also returned to China as a guest soloist with the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra for the inauguration of the Belt and Road Festival.   Future scheduled performances include a recital of Leonard Bernstein music at the Kennedy Center.

In an effort to give voice to issues of identity and culture Ms Canales founded the The Canales Project  in 2016.  Through partnership with organizations such as Carnegie Hall's Weill Institute for Music, the Boys and Girls Club, YoungArts and Vital Voices, The Canales Project aims to find creative solutions to social challenges.  This year also marked the beginning of her work with the Berklee College of Music, as co-director of the Music as a Catalyst for Change program.

Ms. Canales is in demand at opera houses and concert venues around the world.  In 2015 she reprised the role of Maddalena in Rigoletto with Leo Nucci at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, the same company with whom she performed the title role in Carmen, Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino at and Princess Eboli in Don Carlo.  She debuted Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Ete with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Yucatan, and returned to China for a series of solo recitals at China’s National Center for the Performing Arts and Guangzhou Opera House, among other venues. Ms Canales made her European concert debut at Italy’s Spoleto Festival, and  has been a part of the artist roster of the Glyndebourne Festival.  Other recent performances include a recital appearance at Chile's acclaimed Teatro del Lago, as well as her Alice Tully Hall debut in a work by Mohommed Fairouz as part of the Poetry & the Creative Mind event.  

At China’s NCPA in Beijing Ms. Canales sang the role of Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann as well as the title role in the legendary Royal Opera House production of Carmen. A frequent interpreter of Carmen, Ms Canales has sung the title role in twelve countries over eighty times over the last four years.  For her 2015 portrayal of Carmen in Le Tragedie de Carmen this spring, Opera News claimed, “Carla Dirlikov, a well-practiced, sexy Carmen, dominated the show”.

As a concert soloist she has sung Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Avery Fisher Hall with the National Chorale, Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall and at the Kennedy Center.  In September of 2014 she was featured in the UNAM Anniversary Concert which was nationally televised in Mexico .  This year, she performed on the Hispanic Heritage Awards which is  nationally televised in the United States through PBS, and was a guest artist for Vice President Biden's Hispanic Heritage Month Reception, and also for the National Endowment for the Art's 50th Anniversary Celebration.  

Carla Dirlikov Canales is the proud daughter of a Bulgarian father and a Mexican mother. For her advocacy work with underpriviledged youth of over a decade, the U.S. State Department recently conferred upon her the title of Cultural Envoy.  Ms Canales is the first opera singer to join the roster of the President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities’ Turnaround Arts initiative, which promotes arts education in public schools.  She was also recently added to the prestigious roster of the Americans for the Arts Artists Committee. and she is a board member of the Artful Learning model, established by Leonard Bernstein. 

Ms Canales has been a guest speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Association for Performing Arts Presenters Conference, Sphinx Con, Business Innovation Factory Summit, and TEDxMidAtlantic.  She has also been a guest speaker and performer with the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Ms. Canales is an alumna of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, where she studied with Bill Schuman.  She received a Bachelor of Music degree in Music from the University of Michigan, where she studied with Shirley Verrett. She continued her studies at the Conservatoire National de Paris, and completed her Master of Music in Opera Performance degree at McGill University in Montreal.  She is fluent in Spanish, French, Italian and English.