About Carla


Carla Dirlikov Canales is an internationally renowned mezzo-soprano who has also received high-level recognition as both a cultural entrepreneur and a social advocate.  As comfortable on the stages of the world’s great opera houses as she is advocating with senior government officials or working with young people in disadvantaged communities, she has distinguished herself both as a thought-leader and as an innovative artist.

Ms. 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 Sonia Sotomayor in a ceremony and concert at the Supreme Court of the United States.  In 2015, she also became the first opera 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 2016 she received a medal of recognition from NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchants) for her work as a Turnaround Artist for the President of the United States’ Committee for the Arts and Humanities.  Once again, she was the first opera singer to be named in 2015 to this group--which focuses on creating arts education programs for under-priviledged communities.  In 2017 she became the first opera singer to receive the Michigan Alliance for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the prestigious University of Michigan Bicentennial Alumni Award (the University only selected 20 of their most prestigious alumni for this award).  Ms Canales is also the first singer to be selected for the Hermitage Artist Residency, a two-year program through which artist develop creative ideas and projects.  Most recently, Ms. Canales was named one of Musical America’s 30 Movers and Shapers of 2018.

Opera Singer

Ms. Canales is in demand at opera houses and concert venues around the world.  During 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 in Mexico, and returned to China for a series of solo recitals at China’s National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing and at the Guangzhou Opera House, among other venues. 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.  

At China’s NCPA 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. Much in demand for her portrayals of Bizet’s Carmen, Ms Canales has sung the title role over eighty times in twelve countries during the last four years, including with the Shanghai Opera in 2016. 

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 2016 she made her solo concert debut at the Teatro del Lago in Chile.  She also was a featured performer in a presentation of the Messiah by the Street Symphony in Los Angeles that was cited by Alec Ross in The New Yorker as one of the ten most notable performances and recordings of 2015.  In September of 2014 she was featured in the UNAM Anniversary Concert which was nationally televised in Mexico.  In 2015, she performed on the nationally televised Hispanic Heritage Awards, was the guest artist for Vice President Biden's Hispanic Heritage Month Reception, and also performed at the National Endowment for the Art's 50th Anniversary Celebration.  In China, Ms Canales performed songs in Chinese by Academy Award winner Tan Dun with the China National Symphony Orchestra at the NCPA in 2016, and returned in 2017 as a soloist with the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra for their Belt and Road Festival.

The 2015-2016 season included appearances as Flora in La Traviata with New Orleans Opera as well as Opera Roanoke, and a recital appearance in an all Bernstein program at Chile's acclaimed Teatro del Lago.  Also in 2016, she made her Alice Tully Hall debut in a featured work by acclaimed contemporary composer Mohammed Fairouz.

Future scheduled performances in 2018 include a recital at the Kennedy Center, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra, and Mahler’s Das Knabenwunerhorn with the China National Symphony Orchestra, as well as collaborative recitals at the Hammer Theater in San Jose and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Cultural Entrepreneur

Ms. Canales is the Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director of The Canales Project, a rapidly growing not-for-profit (501-c-3) organization devoted to using the arts to help address the cultural divisions that threaten society.  With the stated goal of “leading the journey from the other to the all”, the organization has already assembled an extraordinary roster of partner arts and educations organizations as well as artists to advance its three part program of concerts, educational initiatives and major global programs in the area of cultural diplomacy. 

During calendar 2016-2017, TCP presented concerts and educational programs in New York City in conjunction with The Weill Institute of Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust, N.Y. Live Arts, YoungArts and schools and community organizations serving those who are today face challenges associated with integrating diverse cultural backgrounds into cohesive, constructive, thriving communities.  TCP is also developing similar programs in Arizona, in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Clubs, and in Washington, DC with TEDxMidAtlantic, Vital Voices and the National Gallery, as well as in the San Francisco Bay area with the Hammer Theater. 

Another major initiative of TCP will include its work on issues of cultural diplomacy, using the arts to bridge divides such as those that exist between Islam and the West, East and West, and North and South.  These programs will include major programs with the government of the United Arab Emirates, Chile and with several others still in the development phase.

TCP builds on over a decade of work by Ms. Canales as cultural envoy of the U.S. State Department and developmental work around the idea of using the arts to help the Latino community in her work as founder and artistic director of the El Camino Project, through which she inaugurated a conference on the arts at Harvard University.

Social Activist

Carla Dirlikov Canales will continue her work as a Turnaround Artist in 2016-2017, working with schools in California and Florida through this program of the President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities.  She was also recently appointed to the Artists Committee of the Americans for the Arts as well as the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.  She is a board member of the Artful Learning model, established by Leonard Bernstein and operated under the aegis of the Bernstein Family Foundation. 

Ms Canales has been a guest speaker and performer with the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the Aspen Institute, POLITICO, Harvard University, the Hispanic Heritage Awards on PBS, The National Endowment’s 50 Anniversary Celebration, Vice President Biden’s Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration and TEDx MidAtlantic.  She has also been a guest artist/speaker with the APAP, Vital Voices, SphinxCon, the Aspen Ideas Festival and with Vital Voices.  She is also an alumna of the Aspen Leadership Seminar and the Harvard University Arts and Passion Driven Learning Institute, through which she was a fellow.

During 2016-2017 she will co-lead an intensive new workshop program at the Berklee School of Music which she has co-developed and curated with Tony Woodcock, former head of the New England Conservatory of Music, on cultural and artistic entrepreneurship.  In 2017-18 she will be part of the faculty at the Berklee School of Music as Artist-in-Residence.

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.  She also has performed in Chinese, Arabic, and Russian among other languages.