About Carla


Carla 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 at the Supreme Court of the United States.  In 2015, she also became the first singer to be named by Foreign Policy Magazine to its prestigious annual listing of the year’s100 Leading Global Thinkers for her work using music to bridge cultural barriers. In 2017 she was one of twenty alumni in the history of the institution to receive University of Michigan Bicentennial Alumni Award.  Most recently, Ms. Canales was named one of Musical America’s 30 Movers and Shapers of 2018.

As a classical singer, Ms. Canales has performed at opera houses and concert venues around the world.  Much in demand for her portrayals of Bizet’s Carmen, Ms. Canales has sung the title role over eighty times in twelve countries, most recently with the Shanghai Opera.  According to Opera News, “Mexican mezzo-soprano Carla Dirlikov, a well-practiced, sexy Carmen, dominated the show”.  Other operatic performances in China include role of Giulietta in a new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as well as the title role in the legendary Royal Opera House production of Carmen, both at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

In Europe she sang 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.  Ms. Canales made her European concert debut at Italy’s Spoleto Festival, and has been featured as part of the artist roster of the Glyndebourne Festival.

A Mexican citizen, she has appeared frequently in Latin America, with performances in Mexico’s Centro National de las Artes, Chile’s Teatro del Lago, and several engagements with the Sinfonica de Yucatan, including the title role in Carmen, Dalilah in Samson et Dalilah, and Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Ete.  She was the featured guest artist in the UNAM Anniversary Concert “Voices of Mexico” which was nationally televised throughout Mexico and released as a commercial recording.

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, and in concert at Alice Tully Hall.  She has also been a soloist with the Qingdao Symphony Orchestra (Carmen, 2015), the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven 9 in 2017 and Mahler 2 in 2018), and has appeared twice as a soloist with the China National Symphony Orchestra (Mahler Das Knabenwunerhorn in 2019 and songs by Tan Dun for the opening concert of the 2016-17 season).

An avid recitalist, Ms. Canales has performed solo recitals at the National Gallery of Art, Guangzhou Opera, NCPA, Forbidden City Concert Hall, and most recently at the Kennedy Center in 2018.  She has performed on the nationally televised Hispanic Heritage Awards, was the guest artist for Vice President Biden's Hispanic Heritage Month Reception, and also at the National Endowment for the Art's 50th Anniversary Celebration.  Ms. Canales has been the first singer to be selected for the Hermitage Artist Residency, from 2016-18.

Engagements for 2019-2020 include performances at the Piano On The Rocks Festival in Sedona, the National Gallery of Art, and at the Hammer Theater in San Jose, CA.  She will return to Asia for a concert tour in summer 2019, and will also return for a recital tour in Europe in September, under the auspices of the US State Department.

A lover of all musical genres, Ms. Canales has released two studio recordings, including an original song “Algun Dia”, with accompanying videos, and is currently working on an EP which fuses electronics with Spanish folk melodies, to be released in summer 2019.

Ms. Canales is the founder of The Canales Project, through which she has created and developed Hear Her Song, a musical celebration of distinguished female leaders worldwide, commissioning new songs inspired by their words from female composers. To date she has performed selections from this project over a dozen times at venues including the National Gallery of Art, the United Nations, and the Kennedy Center.

The project engages a variety of participants and partners worldwide, including United Nations Decade of Women, Mercy Beyond Borders, Malala Fund, Her Village Foundation (China), University of Wolverhampton (United Kingdom), San José Office of Cultural Affairs, and Berklee College of Music. Participants include honorees Secretary Hillary Clinton, Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Malala Yousafzai, and composers Sheila Atim, Emily Estefan, Shaina Taub, and Georgia Stitt. The project continues to build a catalogue of commissioned songs, with efforts to reach 50 songs before the end of 2019.

Ms. Canales is the proud daughter of a Bulgarian father and a Mexican mother.   She 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 and speaks conversational German.