Big thank you to University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Alumni Magazine, Michigan Muse, for this great interview and profile! Honored to be receiving one of University of Michigan Bicentennial Alumni Awards, alongside honorees including Darren Criss, Rebecca Alexander, and more.
ESPECIAL / 6 NOVIEMBRE, 2017
Por: Paulina Magdaleno, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cd. de México.-
No se dejen engañar por el apellido. Carla Dirlikov es más mexicana que el mole. Su padre es de Bulgaria, pero su madre nació en México. Por su sangre corre la pasión, el arrojo y la gran compasión que caracteriza al pueblo mexicano. Carla Dirlikov Canales es una talentosa mezzo-soprano que ve en la música no solamente un arte, sino una herramienta para hacer de este mundo un mejor lugar.
1. Cuéntanos sobre tu infancia y cómo fue crecer en un hogar bicultural.
Mi madre es mexicana y mi padre de Bulgaria, y yo fui la primera de la familia que nació en Estados Unidos. Como mis papás no hablaban el mismo idioma, me enseñaron búlgaro y español y yo les servía de traductora. Mi fascinación por la comunicación realmente nació de una necesidad. Ha definido mi vida y ha impactado la manera en que pienso y razono. Siempre he buscado hacer de la comunicación un proceso más eficiente y significativo.
Sin embargo, descubrí que cosas como las emociones son difíciles de traducir, no se pueden poner en palabras. Estas son las cosas del alma, que se expresan mejor con música. Por eso, cuando descubrí el canto, supe que era lo que quería hacer por el resto de mi vida. Cantar es la unión perfecta entre mis dos pasiones: música y lenguaje.
2. Nos encanta tu compromiso de difundir temas de identidad y cultura. ¿Puedes compartir un poquito sobre The Canales Project y cómo surgió esta idea?
Identidad y cultura son dos temas importantes para mí por obvias razones. Me parece muy normal que como seres humanos tengamos ese impulso de ver en dónde “encajamos”, y alguien como yo, con un background multicultural que necesitaba ajustarse a otra cultura –la Americana-, siempre tuve un sentimiento de confusión al momento de definir mi propia identidad. ¿De dónde vengo?
Ya de adulta me di cuenta que no soy la única que se siente así. Por eso quise ayudar compartiendo mi experiencia, especialmente con niños y jóvenes. Quise encontrar la manera de usar mi voz, literal y figurativamente para luchar por las cosas en las que creo. Estamos en una época en que estos temas son de vital importancia. La música y el arte ayudan a construir puentes.
3. Comenzaste a trabajar en el Berklee College of Music como co-directora del programa Music as a Catalyst for Change. Cuéntanos sobre el proyecto.
Estoy agradecida con el Berklee College of Music por haberme dado la oportunidad de compartir mi experiencia con jóvenes artistas. Hace años me quedó claro que uno necesita tener conocimientos básicos sobre finanzas y negocios, así como una mente emprendedora para lograr tus sueños. Berklee me está dando la plataforma para difundir lo que yo he aprendido.
Este año seré una artista residente y lideraré el programa Artists as Change Catalyst. La idea es proporcionar herramientas para todos aquellos artistas interesados crear un impacto social a través de su expresión artística.
4. En el 2014 compartiste escenario con Eugenia León, Lila Downs y Fernando de la Mora en el concierto por el 80 aniversario de la UNAM. ¿Qué significó para ti?
No bueno, ¡una experiencia total! Redefinió la dirección de mi carrera. Estar en el escenario con artistas de esa talla… para empezar, la calidez que me demostraron. Me hicieron sentir bienvenida, lo cual significó mucho porque no soy muy conocida para el público mexicano.
El entusiasmo de la audiencia me impresionó gratamente. El intercambio de energía fue inolvidable. Cantaron y corearon con nosotros. Desde ese concierto me interesé en diferentes géneros musicales y cómo usar mi voz, y eso me guió a grabar nuevo material, tanto en inglés como español. Lo que amo más sobre ser cantante es que siempre puedo aprender y crecer.
5. Eres realmente un huracán de energía y entusiasmo. ¿De dónde viene esta pasión y espíritu intenso?
Lo que me mueve es mi deseo de crear un mundo mejor. Creo en el poder transcendental de las artes, en la importancia de la belleza que puede crear y lo que puede contribuir a nuestra experiencia como seres humanos.
Si quieres crear un cambio, debes examinar los sistemas de creencias. No es una propuesta intelectual, es una propuesta emocional. En mi opinión, los artistas somos como científicos de las emociones, somos los exploradores de la naturaleza humana y las emociones que nos hacen seres humanos. Es nuestro trabajo hacer preguntas, y que nuestra audiencia se las haga también. Realmente tenemos el potencial de producir un cambio.
By Mark Holston
Opera star Carla Dirlikov Canales was well on her way to becoming a serious violinist when her lessons revealed a superior, hitherto undiscovered talent. She had grown up playing the instrument in the Midland, Michigan school music program and developed a love of classical music at an early age. Wanting to encourage their daughter’s music ambitions, Carla’s parents signed her up to take some private violin lessons. That’s where the young musician came face-to-face with the reality that mastering the challenging string instrument wasn’t for her.
Carla Dirlikov Canales. Photo by Alberto Caceres Zenteno
“My teacher would always have me sing the lines first, because string players try to emulate the human voice,” she recalls. “And, the singing came naturally to me. The teacher would get frustrated because I couldn’t play it as well as I could sing it!”
Singing, as it turned out, had always been in the back of her mind. As her family’s economic situation at the time made more private lessons impossible, Carla took it all in stride. “I didn’t want to lose the music outlet the violin had provided for me, so I auditioned for the school choir, which was quite acclaimed,” she notes. “I was accepted, and because of the group’s reputation, in short order I was able to sing at the White House, on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio show, at the Vatican and many other places.”
Today recognized as one of the opera world’s most talented and in-demand young mezzo-sopranos, Carla has been lavished with recognition for both her talent on the stage and her work behind the scenes as an advocate for the arts. In 2015 she became the first opera singer ever to be named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “100 Leading Global Thinkers.” “If all the world’s a stage, these individuals have trained spotlights on pressing issues and viewpoints that demand more of the global audience’s attention,” the respected publication stated of the 16 noted artists they tagged for the honor.
Samson et Dalilah – Sinfonica de Yucatan, 2012
This past year, Carla also made history when she became the first opera singer to be named to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities’ Turnaround Arts Initiative. The project targets the nation’s poorest performing public schools for special attention, using well-known musicians, actors, visual artists and others to work directly with students and instructors to integrate the arts into the daily curriculum and help students escape the academic doldrums.
A year earlier, none other than Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor bestowed on Carla a Sphinx Medal of Excellence. According to the organization that sponsors the honor, the program “awards $50,000 career grants to extraordinary emerging classical artists of color, who, early in their professional career demonstrate artistic excellence, an outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and ongoing commitment to leadership.” Award founder Aaron P. Dworkin commented that “the incredible success that Carla has already achieved is a clear indication that diversity and artistic excellence play important roles in music and in our communities.”
Carla’s resume also includes being named a “Cultural Envoy” by the U.S. Department of State and serving as a guest speaker at the Aspen Institute, the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and the TEDxMidAtlantic conference. She also serves as an Artists Committee Member and speaker for Americans for the Arts.
Carla is also the founder of The Canales Project (TCP), a non-profit initiative designed to explore issues of identity and culture through music and conversation. The effort is committed to achieving social impact through its One Plus One model which assures that for every public performance it offers another will be presented in an underserved community in the U.S. or abroad. The first project in this initiative will draw upon on her own experiences and identity questions as a Latina in America.
NABUCCO, Michigan Opera Theater, 2009
CARMEN, Festival of the Aegean, 2010, Stefanos Fotografia
When it comes to her on-stage talent, the singer is frequently the subject of lofty accolades. Opera Magazine wrote that she possesses a voice that “grabs the heartstrings with its dramatic force and musicality.” She participated in a staging of Handel’s Messiah by the Street Symphony in Los Angeles that was selected by The New Yorker magazine as one of the most notable performances of 2015. Commenting on a performance in Mexico, El Diario de Yucatán praised Carla for “executing her rendition in warm vocal subtleties” and observed that “the gentle guest artist discerned a variety of accents and transmitted the legacy of emotion and supplication proclaimed by the verse ‘Reviens! Reviens!’ (Come back, come back).”
“I love singing jazz and musical theater,” Carla says today. “But I finally decided that studying opera singing would be good for the long term, because I would learn how to preserve my voice.” Her first professional experience in opera came quite unexpectedly. “I was 23 and in Toronto,” she recalls. “I had the opportunity to jump in to replace another singer who couldn’t do it,” she says of the character she would go on to perform over 80 times – the lead in Georges Bizet’s Carmen. “That’s a huge role for a singer who is that young, and I had only three days to learn it. But I just jumped right in!”
Since then, audiences throughout the world have experienced her talents and vivacious stage presence, from Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and other prestigious theaters in the U.S. to venues throughout Europe, China, and Mexico. Her most recent concert, a tribute to Leonard Bernstein, was staged in Frutillar, a small city in southern Chile, at the renowned, ultra-modern Teatro del Lago.
Carla grew up experiencing and balancing three distinctly different cultural realities. In some ways, she was a typical American youngster from the Midwest, but the influence of her mother, a native of Mexico City, and Bulgarian father played significant roles in her intellectual development. “My father was a scientist, working on his doctorate in Prague, where he met my mother,” she explains. “When he was offered a job in the U.S., he proposed to my mother.”
As a child, she was influenced very much by both of her parents’ cultures. “I didn’t really learn about American culture until I went to school,” Carla says. “Both taught me their native languages and I didn’t really acquire English until I went to school. But once I was in school, my dad made it a point that I should become more ‘Americanized.’ He was teaching at a university and wanted to improve his English, and he wanted my brothers and myself to speak to him in English. With my mother, it was quite the opposite. She raised us as dual citizens, and for her, it was in a traditional Mexican way.”
Les Contes D’Hoffmann – Beijing, 2013.
CARMEN, Sinfonica de Yucatan, 2010.
Her mother’s Mexican heritage has become a big part of how the singer sees herself. Although her ability to speak Bulgarian has faded, she is fluent in Spanish and, thanks to the demands of her opera career, several other languages. “I’ve been fortunate to have been embraced by the Hispanic community,” she comments, “But in reality, when it comes to filling out the census, I probably need to check the box ‘other,’ because I also have this Bulgarian background. In my case, I’ve been a true hybrid. It’s a little bit of neither here nor there. In Mexico, as a kid, they perceived me as an American, as I was taller than all of the other kids and I had a funny last name (although recently she has started using her grandmother’s surname, Canales). So, it was hard to integrate there. Here it’s been a little difficult as well because I might say that I’m a Latina, but people will point to my height and last name. They might be thinking, ‘You don’t really 100 percent look like us.’ But, there are many of us out there who would check that ‘other’ box. My parents met by chance, but in the future we’re going to see more children who are the products of globalization.”
Currently, Carla has embarked on an ambitious research project she will use as the basis of a book she wants to write on Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet, theater director and playwright who was influential in the early part of the 20th Century. Her travels to track down new information on Lorca and his fascination with duende – a concept that reflects the qualities of passion and inspiration with a spiritual connotation – will include trips to Argentina and Spain.
“I was introduced to this concept through Carmen,” Carla notes. “He wrote a short book called In Search of Duende, in which he outlines the power we can all feel but that no philosopher can explain. It had a very deep impact on many, including Bizet, who wrote Carmen. So, I see Carmen herself as a child of duende. Translated into English, it could mean “soul,” but it’s about that power of attraction that we feel as an artist in a performance setting.” The first place Lorca lectured on this topic was in Buenos Aires. “I’m interested in retracing him and his work,” she adds in anticipation of her first trip to Argentina to do on-the-ground research.
On the topic of the four century-old opera tradition and its relevance in today’s world, Carla is emphatic in her belief that the art form retains its inherent attraction to audiences because of the universality of its themes. “Originally I was drawn to opera for two reasons,” she states. “The power of the human voice to project without amplification, and the beauty that a human being is capable of creating with their own body. People may mock the implausible plots, but that’s not the point. The reason that opera is so grand is simple: this art form draws on the most complex human situations in order to evoke catharsis.”
Catharsis, the singer reminds us, is defined as the process of releasing and relieving yourself of strong emotions. “It is my greatest hope that this process might lead to a deeper level of empathy, because this is the true power the arts can have on the world,” she comments. “Opera achieves this by spending time on what affects us most – the emotional peaks and abysses. It offers us a reflection of who we are, how we relate to others, and what it means, collectively and individually, to be human.”
On her journey as an opera singer, Carla says she has found one thing to be true: that all people, regardless of nationality, race, age or gender, share the capacity to feel emotion. “This is our deepest universal sense: we all cry, laugh, love, feel pain, and embarrassment. We all speak a common language, that of the soul. My job as an artist is not to show you who I am on stage, or even to show you my character’s personality. It is to hold a mirror to the audience and ask you to reflect upon yourself.”
Vice President Joe Biden greets and takes photos with opera singer Carla Dirlikov at a Naval Observatory Residence reception in Washington D.C. on Sept. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann).
Les Contes D’Hoffmann – Beijing, 2013.
In the part that has become her calling card, from Beijing and Mérida to a festival on the Greek island of Syros, Carla sees significance for several reasons. “First and foremost, Carmen was the first female character to be killed onstage,” she points out. “This was outrageous at the time, to the point that the first of several singers that Bizet approached to sing the role refused; they found this death too vulgar and shocking. Also, for many people, Carmen represents the first verismo opera – that is to say, it’s the first opera that is about ‘ordinary’ or ‘true’ people, rather than nobility. Carmen is the protagonist, and one could argue that she is not of high moral virtue, but without any argument it can be agreed that she is not of high wealth.”
Most importantly, Carla asserts, is that Carmen represents a strong woman who is unafraid of death. “In fact, she isn’t afraid of anything,” the singer states of her most often-performed role. “She lives her life in the moment, and is committed to her freedom to choose. She is the femme fatale of opera, and though everyone will have an individual opinion of what that means, it is what she represents in each of our imaginations that creates her legacy.”
Carla Dirlikov might possess the classical music industry’s most unique formula to what it takes to make a successful operatic career.
She envisions it backward.
“Many singers think of where they hope to be and work toward that goal,” she says. “I think of how I might hope my children will think of me at the end of my life. At the end of the day, I want the work that I did to reflect who I was. What did I do with my life and my work to make the world a better place? You almost have to build backward from that.”
Although the mezzo-soprano has earned a wealth of acclaim on international stages—much of which she attributes to her extensive work in the title role of Bizet’s operatic classic Carmen—Dirlikov’s reach extends far beyond the scope of her musical aspirations.
She has embraced opportunities to put the success she has found in singing to good use as a United States State Department Cultural Envoy. It enables Dirlikov to promote American culture, the importance of the arts, and an exposure to classical music and opera to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to ever encounter it.
On March 19, as a result of her extensive outreach work, Dirlikov became the first singer to receive the Sphinx Medal of Excellence. The award recognizes the work of black and Latino leaders in music who—early in their careers—show artistic excellence, a strong work ethic, and a spirit of determination and leadership. She was bestowed with the honor from Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Currently residing in Philadelphia with her husband, this daughter of a Bulgarian father and a Mexican mother credits music education and outreach as a defining factor for her body of work. It’s one that Dirlikov said has served as her motivation throughout the years, yielding a strong sense of self-awareness and discovery and enabling her to respond to a calling to give back and remain grounded. And, she said, her outreach has been shaped more by what she can do, rather than what it can do for her.
Music as a Human Experience
Dirlikov stumbled upon her passion for voice in an unlikely place—at a violin lesson.
“In my lessons, the teacher often would have me sing the line of music,” Dirlikov recalls, with a laugh. “I discovered that it was easier and I was good at it. I found that I like the combination of text and music even more.”
Realizing she was in the “wrong place,” Dirlikov quickly took to singing.
She would go on to receive her bachelor of music degree from the University of Michigan—the state from which she originally hails—before continuing her music studies at the Conservatoire National de Paris and completing her master’s degree in opera performance at McGill University in Montreal. She also is an alumna of the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
Since then, she has been an in-demand force in opera houses and concert halls across the globe, championing such roles as Adalgisa in Norma, Maddalena in Rigoletto, Preziosilla in La forza del destino, Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, Giulietta in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Dalila in Samson et Dalila, Fenena in Nabucco, Cornelia in Giulio Cesare, Maddalena in Linda di Chamounix, and her signature title role in Carmen.
She has been described by Opera Magazine as having “the most compelling voice of the evening, one that grabbed the heartstrings with its dramatic force and musicality.”
As a highly sought-after concert soloist, Dirlikov has lent her voice to the likes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Avery Fisher Hall with the National Chorale, Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Verdi’s Requiem with the New Jersey Master Chorale, Ravel’s “Shéhérazade” with the Delaware Chamber Music Festival, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Fairfax Choral Society, and Mozart’s Coronation Mass with MidAmerica Productions.
She first became involved with the State Department in 2005, when one of her mentors connected her with the United States Embassy in Mexico City. The embassy was looking for a vocalist to do some outreach work. Dirlikov jumped at the opportunity. Since then, her outreach has extended into several countries, where she frequently offers masterclasses and teaches music to orphans and poverty-stricken youth.
Among the many locations she’s worked, Dirlikov has embraced several kismet opportunities to travel to China, which also influenced her to add Chinese to her language roster.
“The opportunities I have to do outreach work vary so much, but I do as much as I can,” Dirlikov says. “When I’m scheduled to perform abroad, I will contact the State Department and ask what I can do, based on what my rehearsal and performance schedule dictates.”
Sometimes, she explains, opportunities might include outreach activities with youth in schools. On other occasions, Dirlikov might work with communities that have no outlet or exposure to classical music or opera otherwise.
For her, it’s all a part of promoting music as a tool for greater communication. Dirlikov has a fascination with the deeper roots of communication and with the relationship that is manifested between the performer and audience, the mentor and the student, and the music and the listener. And, always a student of the art of communication, she finds cues in even the most unlikely of places.
“My dog has truly changed my life,” Dirlikov says, laughing. “Animals are fascinating to me. Without words, language, or music, they can communicate their needs. It’s just silence. But they can read you. You can read them. There is a sense of awareness.”
This passion and deep curiosity for the essence of communication has become key to Dirlikov’s unique approach as both an ambassador and a performer.
“For me, singing is a part of what I do,” she says. “But music is so much bigger. It creates a community. It’s a part of the human experience and it connects us. Music can reveal some of people’s most honest moments. When it suddenly becomes accessible, it opens up and reveals something new to people. That exchange can be life changing.”
Among Dirlikov’s many roles on the operatic stage, it’s the role as a kind of gateway to opera—spreading awareness, bringing exposure to the art form, and offering a glimmer of hope through the power of music—that Dirlikov, perhaps, takes the most seriously, particularly since being recognized with the Sphinx Medal of Excellence.
“I was absolutely shocked when I got the call,” Dirlikov says, of earning the honor. “There was no application process. I had no idea I was being considered. It came as such a huge surprise when it finally sunk in.”
With the honor came a sizeable monetary award—a $50,000 career grant, which Dirlikov put to use by digging into her roots, spotlighting Mexican baroque pieces that have not been sung in nearly 200 years—and an even deeper sense of responsibility to her true musical mission.
“That they picked me made me more aware of wanting to live up to being seen as a model leader and someone that can make a positive difference through what I do,” Dirlikov says. “It also made me think outside the box about my role in music and as a singer. Using that to give back has become something I’m very passionate about.”
What the Future Holds
In addition to her busy performance schedule, coupled with her outreach activities that find her traveling frequently, Dirlikov recently landed a television show, Articulate, which will air on PBS in Philadelphia beginning in early October and aims to show how art explains life.
She also will be speaking on behalf of the White House Initiative on the topic of Educational Excellence for Hispanics at the 2014 National Policy Forum on Music and the Arts, set for Aug. 27–28 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. The Initiative will highlight the benefits of music and the arts and the importance of increasing access of each for Hispanic students.
“To be able to reach out and talk with kids, one on one, about classical music and, perhaps, get them to think about and change their perception of opera . . . it’s very fulfilling,” Dirlikov says. “It feeds me. It’s very powerful to see them connect and get enthused by it . . . to give them something to be more hopeful toward and to show them that anything is possible. It’s those experiences and sharing in moments of truth and honesty that keep you going as an artist.”
Advice to Budding Young Artists
Dirlikov said she always advises young singers and those aspiring for a career in opera to think outside the box when it comes to career planning and development.
“My heart goes out to young singers today,” she says. “It’s much harder than it was when I was getting started in my career. There are so many singers, the competition is fierce, and there are only so many opportunities. It’s great to have goals. But it’s important to know why you have to do this—the joy of singing. It’s about being aware of your true self and the journey and the discovery you’ll make about who you are and what you’re passionate about along the way. Keep your options open as you travel upward on the ladder and find good people to mentor you. You don’t necessarily have to follow the usual path.”
Read more about Dirlikov at www.carladirlikov.com.
Megan Gloss is a classical singer and journalist based in the Midwest.
E-mail the author at: email@example.com
- See more at: http://www.classicalsinger.com/magazine/article.php?id=2785#sthash.orXd1tqI.dpuf
(Photo: Alberto Caceres)
By: David Salazar
April 25th, 2014
Part of being an opera is playing a number of diverse roles ranging from tragic figures to comic schemers. But few of them play the number of roles that mezzo-soprano Carla Dirlikov has managed to take on in her yet blossoming career. The rising singer, who is well-known for her interpretation of Bizet's "Carmen," was recently awarded the Sphinx Medal of Excellence and is a cultural envoy with the U.S. State Department. Dirlikov, the daughter of a Bulgarian father and Mexican mother, recently spoke with Latin Post about her accolades, her sense of duty and responsibility, and her developing career.
The SPHINX Medal of Excellence was awarded on March 19, 2014 and it honors "extraordinary Black and Latino leaders in music who, early in their career, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and leadership." Dirlikov is actually the first singer ever to be given the noted award, a historical fact that she takes great pride in.
"It is an honor. But it is also a deep responsibility as the first singer to ever win this prize. I hope to fulfill the potential that they see in me," she enthused.
Dirlikov was actually in a Starbucks in Germany when she received the phone call. She noted that the news came as a huge surprise as it was not an award that she could apply for.
"I was shocked," she stated. "There is no application process. It is by nomination and there is a committee that reviews the applicants. I had no idea I was being considered."
As part of winning the award, Dirlikov earns a $50,000 career grant. The singer noted that she is actually launching a new project that will expose long forgotten Mexican music of the baroque era.
"I was trying to think about what can I do to carry out this mission and make a mark in the arts. Where could I make a difference? What I came back to are my roots and ethnicity," she explained. "I have always been close to my family in Mexico and one of the things I wanted to do was premiere some Mexican baroque pieces that haven't been sung in over 200 years. There is incredible repertoire that has not been given a spotlight. I felt honored that I might be in a position to bring more light to this music."
Dirlikov was introduced to the music by conductor Benjamin Juarez Echenique, who also serves as the Dean of the Boston University College of Fine Art. Dirlikov noted that he would be conducting her in the music. The other major collaborator on this project is musicologist Dr. Thomas Stanford who went to Mexico over 50 years ago and has spent his time researching and studying the music that Dirlikov plans to showcase.
"[Stanford] basically gave me his life's work and said 'Take this out to the world,'" said Dirlikov.
The performance of the music will be recorded and released by Urtext, a Mexican record label that is distributed by Naxos in the United States. However Dirlikov was unsure whether the recording would be based off a live performance or whether it would take place in a studio setting. But for the moment, that is not the main focus on her mind. Instead, she is simply thrilled by the prospect of working with so many wonderful collaborators.
"I am so deeply honored that I have many talented people willing to work with me and support this idea," she stated. "I am looking forward to the recording and the performances so we can share this with the rest of the world. I'm especially grateful to the Sphinx Organization for their support, and very excited to collaborate with the Sphinx Virtuosi chamber orchestra on this project. I think that having the chance to interpret this music together will be very special.
Photo Credit: Alberto Caceres
"I feel very passionately about promoting Latin music. Whether it be Spanish, Latin American or Mexican, it all speaks very dearly to me. There is so much wonderful repertoire that is relatively unknown."
Aside from her major award, Dirlikov is a devoted humanitarian and has been awarded the title of Cultural Envoy for her educational work with small communities around the world. The singer started working with the State Department back in 2005 when one of her mentors, Ken Fisher who is the President of the University Musical Society, put her in touch with a contact in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City called Bertha Cea. It turned out that the embassy was looking for a singer to do some outreach and Dirlikov took advantage of the opportunity.
Since then she has worked in a number of different countries and has helped teach youngsters about music and how to sing.
"I take a lot of pride in my work on behalf of the State Department. It is something special for me because it allows me to do educational and outreach work in other countries in the name of the U.S. government," she revealed. "When I am on an opera gig in another country, I contact State Department and ask what I can do for them. They usually find me some activities in schools such as master classes. Other times it is working with communities that have no experience with classical music. It is really exciting to bring music to those people."
The work has even brought about long lasting experiences for Dirlikov.
"The first concert I did was in Campeche [in the Mexican province of Yucatan]. The state department got together a group of kids. They were orphans or underprivileged kids and they asked me if I could do a workshop," she explained. "I bonded with them and then asked them to sing on my concert.
"It was incredible to witness how they were empowered by music," she elaborated. "Singing is essentially a free way to make music and anyone can do it. Those kids really gained a lot of confidence and were able to express their emotions through music."
She returned later that year and was surprised to see the group's progress.
"They had advanced so much that they were asked to be the opening act for a major concert," she explained before revealing that the students actually went on to win a major award. "A few years after they won an award given out by the White House called the Coming up Taller Award and they got to travel to DC.
"As the story goes they got there and were really sad because they didn't see Carla. I have grown so close with them."
While social outreach came as a nice surprise for Dirlikov, music did not. Dirlikov grew up playing the violin and her transition to being a singer came about because one of her teachers emphasized that she sing the music and try to translate the vocalism into the instrumental performance. At age 17, she started studying singing and realized that it was the right fit for her.
"It was a marriage of my two passions which are music and languages," she revealed. "When I discovered that singing is an opportunity to put the two together, I decided that that was it."
She went off to the University of Michigan on a full scholarship to study voice and came into contact with one of the greatest opera singers of all time -- Shirley Verrett.
According to Dirlikov, while on sabbatical from U of M to study at the Paris Conservatoire, she attended a summer workshop at the Accademia Chigiana in Italy in 2000 where she met the famed singer. The two connected during the summer and arranged for Dirlikov to continue her studies with Verrett back at the University of Michigan. She continued to work with Verrett until the latter passed away in 2010.
"She basically taught me everything. Not only about singing but about professionalism, artistry, kindness, and how to be a better person," enthused Dirlikov. "She was my greatest role model. I was lucky to spend a lot of personal time with her getting to know her. I looked up to her very much.
"To sum it up, she was about commitment to artistry, commitment in general, and having something to say. Each time I get up to sing, I think of it as an opportunity to say something that I can say that cannot be said any other way," she added. "I remember her always. Especially because I have been able to sing a number of roles that she was famous for and I feel a responsibility to try to carry out her legacy and everything that she taught me."
Dirlikov finished her studies at the Conservatoire National de Paris and received her Masters from McGill University. She also studied at the Academy of Vocal Arts. Since then, she has managed to establish an international career with a diverse repertoire. However, the singer notes that one role in particular has helped her rise in the opera world -- Carmen. Dirlikov noted that she has sung the role over 70 times all around the world, including in Europe, Asia, North America and Mexico.
"I love that role. First of all she is a very strong woman and I love playing strong dynamic characters. It comes more naturally to me. I think I can sink my teeth into that," she noted before stating that the greatness of the role is the ample opportunity for nuance and dramatic reinterpretation. "One of the things that has been special in my journey with this role is that I can work with different directors and conductors. The work leads to exploring a lot of questions unanswered. Is she a bad person? Is she misunderstood? Is she a femme fatale? Does she love Don Jose? Those questions give you so many options to play with. No matter how I play her, it is important to have conviction with my choices."
It is not surprising that "Carmen" is so important to the singer as she revealed that it has a major connection not only with her childhood, but also with her family.
Credit: Alberto Caceres
"The first opera I saw was Carmen. My dad got the DVD version and we watched it as kids," she stated. "I remember playing Carmen with my brothers. I would dress one up as a bull and the other as a bullfighter and I would twirl my skirt around. And that was one of our child games along with hide and seek."
Later this year, the Mexican-Bulgarian singer will take on the role of Adalgisa in Bellini's "Norma" at the Portland Summer Festival and she admitted that it was a role that she has long desired to sing. However, singing the role is not the only treat in store for Dirlikov. What excites her most about taking on the role is having the opportunity to sing alongside one of her closest friends, Angela Meade. Meade recently took on the title role in Bellini's masterwork at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and received a number of great reviews for her work.
"It is going to be so much fun. I am so excited about it because Angela is a close friend. We went to the Academy of Vocal Arts together and I think that anytime you can sing with a close friend it is special," she stated. "But this is extra special because she is so great and well-known for it. I am looking forward to sharing these beautiful duets with her."
Dirlikov noted that her career is far from easy and that she has been forced to overcome a number of major obstacles. However, the biggest hurdle that she has had to leap past is her own fear.
"I think fear holds us all back. For me fear of failure was the biggest obstacle and getting past it took some effort and strength of mind," she stated. Knowing who you are is key as an artist. Obviously there will be mistakes and failures but the key for me has been to look at them as opportunities to grow and learn."
The singer noted that in coming years she will be expanding her repertoire to include more bel canto roles as well as more baroque music.
Among the bel canto repertoire she wants to add are some works by Rossini and Donizetti.
"[Donizetti's] 'La Favorita' is a beautiful role that I would love to sing," she revealed. "It is a repertoire that I am starting to discover and it is really exciting for me to learn all of this new music."
But what are her biggest dream roles?
"I want to be a Valkyrie [in Wagner's 'Die Walkure']. That scene is so exciting! I love that music so much. I don't know if it is for my voice, but that particularly scene always gives me chills."
She also noted that singing Charlotte in Massenet's "Werther" was another role she aspired to.
The mezzo-soprano has had the opportunity of singing some major Verdi roles, including Eboli in "Don Carlo" and Preziosilla in "La Forza del Destino." However, she noted that she is looking to ease up on singing too much dramatic repertoire.
"I love Verdi and I am so grateful that I have been able to make some of his great roles," she stated. "But right now I want to go slowly with that mostly because it is so dramatic and requires so much from a singer in terms of vocal maturity. I try to mix it up like a healthy diet. And I think having a variety of things musically is healthy for my voice. Doing more bel canto and early music is a good direction for me right now."
Dirlikov has numerous responsibilities as an opera singer and cultural envoy, but she still finds time to spend with her husband and her two dogs.
"I love all animals. I have two rescue dogs that I absolutely adore. My idea of a good time is taking them to the dog park, letting them loose and watching them interact. It inspires me so much to see how they communicate without any language," she stated.
Dirlikov also revealed that she speaks five languages fluently: Spanish, French, Italian, German and English. She stated that while she did speak Bulgarian as a child, she has lost the fluency as an adult. Despite her diverse range of languages, she noted that she is hard at work in adding yet another one to her skill set.
"I am learning Chinese right now for fun," she said. "I have been fascinated by languages for a long time and how we as humans interact with one another."
我的兄弟曾经在中国生活过,他们给 我说过很多中国的事情,而中国的音乐也 是历史悠久,我早有耳闻。来到这里,既 是我的演出之行,也是我的圆梦之旅。
卡拉·德里科夫:在过去的一年里,我开始尝试将著名歌剧 《卡门》、音乐剧《窈窕淑女》、《绿野仙踪》和《音乐之声》等经典剧 目当中的精彩选段带给中国的观众。过去的歌剧表演时间相对 较长,而这些曲目的选段都控制在三到五分钟,在有限的时间内
年轻的作品。一方面,经典选段对于中国的观众来说不算陌生, 可以在大家心中引起共鸣,另一方面,这种混搭的表演艺术可以 带给观众耳目一新的感觉。对我而言,这种沟通是非常直接的, 在表演的过程中,我们不可能把所要表演的曲目跟观众一一解 释,但我们可以间隙给大家讲一下背景,让大家更容易去理解。 我期待通过自己的献唱,把西方歌剧的宏大主题、演唱方式的圆 润感觉、情感塑造的饱满质感带给观众。
卡拉·德里科夫:是的。在中国除了到当地的演出场所举办 免费的歌剧演出,我们去到了一些音乐院校,也拜访了一些非艺 术院校的音乐专业,我们和学生们尤其是歌剧专业的同学,就美 国音乐西方歌剧进行了学术和演唱技巧的探讨。
在中国不同的演出场所举办歌剧演出,是中西方歌剧艺术彼 此增进了解的途径之一,同时我们也希望通过更多的访问和讲 解,和中国的观众、中国的歌剧专业人士,以及中国不同的艺术领 域艺术家,有更多的音乐文化的主题交流。
卡拉·德里科夫:东西方文化的差异,使得我们的音乐艺术也 会有所不同。比如我在和中国的川剧艺术家交流的时候,他们曾 问到我如何能不用麦克风就开始练习。我想说的是,作为歌唱家
是一段很美妙的旅程,但也是一个很艰难的过程。歌唱家不仅要 有优秀的嗓音,还要具备讲故事的能力。声乐练习是歌唱旅程的 重要阶段,要保持良好的状态,整个身体就是我们表演的乐器,不 论是中国的训练方式,还是像我这样的方式,都要注意气息的运 用与身体产生共鸣。
尽管训练习惯不同,表演风格、呈现形式也各具特色。但归 根结底我们的共同点更多,我们都希望通过我们的艺术,来讲述 故事的艺术家。不管是中国、欧洲、南美,都有一种天然的默契, 致力于生活的本质是什么,以及探讨人类共同的情绪。
卡拉·德里科夫:因为听过太多中国的故事,能够来中国满足 了我很大的好奇心,能为成都的观众表演更是我难忘的体验。我 曾经非常期待观赏川剧,也乐于体验传统的中国,特别是四川特 色文化,真正接触到川剧,和川剧艺术家们有了第一次中西合璧 的合作之后,我更是为这门中国国粹着迷。
卡拉·德里科夫:我必须说其实这也是我的下一个目标和 梦想。来成都之前我们也进行过讨论,比如在故宫、在沈阳, 我们都看到非常多历史悠久的表演文化,我们也看到不少欧 洲品牌正在寻找中西交融的契合点,既然中国元素可以对欧 洲品牌产生影响,那么我相信同样的影响也会出现在中西双 方的音乐上。
实际上,中国传统音乐的影响力是非常丰富的,世界上有许 许多多的艺术与之结合,甚至延伸到服装、建筑等领域。我们现 在想要做得就是把这样一种深远的影响继续发展,通过不断的挑 战把我们的理念推陈出新,相信今后我们会有更多机会认识更多 有影响力的中国艺术家,通过这样的交流学习影响,把我们的音 乐带给世界上更多的观众。