© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

creative:impact - Applying An Operatic Voice To Arts + Creative Advocacy

Carla Dirlikov Canales
Carla Dirlikov Canales

Meet Carla Dirlikov Canales, Ypsilanti native, renowned opera singer, and arts advocate.  She is also founder of the Canales Project, an organization that uses the arts to bridge cultural divides.  She joined Creative Washtenaw's Deb Polich and WEMU's David Fair to talk about how she uses her voice to advocate for the arts and creativity in the halls of Congress and across the world. 

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


Carla Dirlikov Canales
Credit Carla Dirlikov Canales / carlacanales.com
Carla Dirlikov Canales

Carla Dirlikov Canales has been praised by Opera Magazine for possessing a voice that “grabs the heartstrings with its dramatic force and musicality.”  As a performer, she has won acclaim on leading stages around the world while, at the same time as an arts advocate, she has won recognition as one of the leading voices of her generation.

In 2014, she won the prestigious Sphinx Medal of Excellence, an honor bestowed upon her by Justice Sotomayor at the US Supreme Court, and a year later she was named by Foreign Policy Magazine to its annual listing of the year’s 100 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, and was selected for the Hermitage Artist Residency.  She was also invited under President Obama to serve under the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities as a Turnaround Artist.  In all of the above, she was the first opera singer to receive these distinctions.  Most recently, Ms. Canales was named one of Musical America’s 30 Movers and Shapers of 2018. In addition, she has served the US State Department as an Arts Envoy for over fifteen years.

Much in demand for her portrayals of Bizet’s Carmen, she has sung the title role over eighty times in twelve countries, most recently with the Shanghai Opera.  According to Opera News, “Carla Dirlikov, a well-practiced, sexy Carmen, dominated the show.”  Other operatic performances in China include role of Giulietta in a new production by Francesca Zambello 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.

Engagements in 2020 and beyond include returning to sing with Orquesta Sinfónica de Yucatán as alto soloist in Beethoven Symphony No. 9, guest soloist with the Mediterranean Notes Festival, and recitals in Montenegro as an Arts Envoy for the US State Department.  Ms. Canales will also give the keynote address at the El Sistema USA 2020 conference and plans to return to China to perform later in the year.

Ms. Canales made her European debut as Eboli in Don Carlo with the Opera Royal de Wallonie, a company with which she has also since sung the title role in Carmen, Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino, and Maddalena in Rigoletto alongside legendary baritone Leo Nucci.  Ms. Canales has also sung at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, the Glyndebourne Festival in England, and at La Piccola Scala in Greece among other venues.

Ms. Canales holds dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship and 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, in addition to the title role 1 of 2 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.

Carla Dirlikov Canales
Credit Carla Dirlikov Canales
Carla Dirlikov Canales on stage

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, the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared twice as a soloist with the China National Symphony Orchestra, most recently as the guest soloist for Mahler’s Das Knabenwunerhorn in 2018.

An accomplished recitalist, Ms. Canales has performed solo recitals at the National Gallery of Art, Guangzhou Opera, NCPA, Forbidden City Concert Hall, and most recently gave a solo recital 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.

Engagements in 2020 and beyond include returning to sing with the Sinfonica de Yucatan as the alto soloist in Beethoven Symphony No 9, guest soloist with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, guest soloist with the Mediterranean Notes Festival, and recitals in Montenegro as an Arts Envoy for the US State Department. Ms. Canales will also give the keynote address at the El Sistema USA 2020 conference.

Ms. Canales is the founder of The Canales Project, through which she has created Hear Her Song, a musical celebration of distinguished female leaders worldwide, commissioning new songs to honor them, composed by 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, The Public Theater in NYC and the Kennedy Center.  The project engages a variety of participants and partners worldwide, including the United Nations and El Sistema USA.  Participants include honorees Secretary Hillary Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Malala Yousafzai.

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, German and English.  Ms. Canales has been a guest speaker/lecturer at Harvard University, Berklee College of Music, the Aspen Institute, and TEDxMidAtlantic.  She was a founder and artistic director of CultureSummit Abu Dhabi from 2016-18.


Carla Dirlikov Canales
Credit Carla Dirlikov Canales
Carla Dirlikov Canales with young fans.

Founded by internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Carla Canales, The Canales Project (TCP) is a musical organization hosting a variety of collaborative, advocacy-centered projects that give voice to issues of identity and culture through music and conversation.  As the word ‘canales’, the Spanish word for ‘channels’, suggests, we seek to create a network of partnerships with organizations and individual artists, enhancing messages relevant to social and cultural change.

Why Now?

In the United States, a debate rages about the role of immigrants in our society.  In Europe and the Middle East, the fate of refugees is a flashpoint.  Writers speak of a “clash of civilizations” between East and West, Islam and Christianity.  The rise of Asia, the role of women in society, racial and ethnic tensions send fault lines through communities in every corner of the globe.  The fate of country after country rests on how they manage the role and the future of “the other,” those who are seen as different.  Yet defining “the other” is becoming increasingly complicated.  In the U.S., in 2014, for the first time, among children under 5, groups that were once thought of as minorities — Latinos, African Americans and Asians comprised the majority.

By 2020, that will be true for all Americans under 18.  By 2044, according to the U.S. Census bureau that will be true for all Americans.  The minority become the majority.  (Today, one of four Americans is either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.)

For the citizens who are members of these groups — watching the attacks of the intolerant in the media, seeing the hate-fueled opportunism of political leaders, sensing the rifts in their societies — the pressures are enormous.  For young people, unsure of their own identities, perhaps confused about which culture to embrace, the problems are especially great.


The National Arts Action Summit is a multi-day event giving grassroots advocates crucial advocacy training from experts in the field and then put that training into practice during Arts Advocacy Week in meetings with elected officials.  Hosted by Americans for the Arts in collaboration with dozens of national, state, and local organizational Partners, the National Arts Action Summit and Arts Advocacy Week is the largest gathering of its kind, bringing together a broad cross section of America's cultural and civic organizations.

National Arts Action Summit
Credit Americans for the Arts / americansforthearts.org
National Arts Action Summit speakers

Grassroots advocates across the country will convene digitally April 5-9, 2021, to learn the latest in arts policy through issue-specific briefings, advocacy trainings, and networking opportunities.  Over these five days, you’ll gain a depth of knowledge from policy experts at Americans for the Arts and many of our Partners.  You’ll also be able to watch a recording of these webinars whenever you like to refresh your understanding of the issues. Session topics will include: arts and culture agency funding, arts education, tax policy, COVID-19 relief and recovery, the creative economy, and many more!


Carla Canales Official Site

Carla Canales on Facebook

Carla Canales on Twitter

Carla Canales on Instagram

The Canales Project

National Arts Action Summit

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebookand follow us onTwitter

— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
Related Content