Edie Davis Tidwell sang her first solo in elementary school in Moore, Oklahoma. That first performance would lead her to a career in opera, orchestral recitals, and teaching voice at the University of Louisville. Edie sang with the Kentucky Opera, Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Ballet, Louisville Bach Society, and in the Highland Presbyterian Church choir. Further afield, she was with the New York City Opera for seven years, toured England and Wales, and performed on stages from Alaska to Texas to California.
When did you know you had a talent for music?
Someone must have thought my voice was something special. In second grade, I was asked to sing the state song Oklahoma for each of my school’s classes. Each time I got more mature and gave a stronger ending to the song. I gave my first solo in church when I was 8 years old. Being involved in strong music programs in church really helped develop my voice.
How did you end up in Louisville?
I came to the University of Louisville to study voice in 1968-69. Then, Moritz von Bomhard, founder of the Kentucky Opera, became a strong mentor in my life, and I began to grow vocally and dramatically. Between 1970 and 1982, I had many singing roles with the Kentucky Opera.
How did you begin performing outside of Louisville?
I was teaching and singing here and enjoying it. I didn’t really think about going somewhere else. Then, I got a call from the stage director of the opera in Anchorage, Alaska. He had seen me perform with the Kentucky Opera, knew I had performed the role of Tosca, and asked me to come to Anchorage and perform it — that night! That experience sparked an interest in me and led to my debut with the New York City Opera in 1985. I was with them for seven years. You never know what will come your way.
What were some of the challenges you faced during that time?
In one 10-month period I was home for only 19 days. I missed my family (husband Dallas, now deceased, and daughter Kristen). They became really close because they carried on when I wasn’t there. One time I came home from a tour and they had had the whole kitchen redone.
I hated days off when I was out of town because I was really homesick, but when I was busy creating it was OK.
What roles did you play?
The women I played, dramatic heroines, got thrown around a lot on the stage. There was a lot of fighting and struggling. I was on the floor a lot and my character usually died. My daughter would ask, “How do you die this time?” My favorite way to die was in Bellini’s Norma atop a burning pyre.
What changed for you?
When I realized my daughter was going to graduate from high school and I was missing everything, I was more judicious about the opportunities I decided to pursue. In 1993, I really started slowing down because I broke my arm in a performance of Tosca. I slipped on fake blood onstage during an audience-attended dress rehearsal. I finished the run in a cast. That was my last opera. When I got back to Louisville, I had to have my arm reset and a bone graft from my hip.
How did you handle stage fright?
There is excitement and nervousness, but you become more secure. Once I walked on stage, I was the character, not Edie Davis.
Are you totally retired?
I retired from teaching in 2016 but still work with private students. I love to learn and consider myself a student of music and of opera and have enjoyed taking a few classes.
I have also spent some time organizing memorabilia from my career. I had programs, photos, reviews, and notes from colleagues and friends. It was really me taking one last look and remembering who that person was and what that career was.
You can watch this video of her career here.
By Lucy M. Pritchett | Photo by Melissa Donald