Amy's Last Dive
Mezzo Soprano, Tenor, Soprano, Women's Voices, Young Actors and Orchestra
(2012) 90 minutes
Libretto by Adam Strickson
Premiered on June 28th 2012 at Stage@Leeds, Leeds University, with a second performance on the 29th June. Amy's Last Dive was part of the Cultural Olympiad in Yorkshire. Natalie Raybould sung the part of Amy Johnson, David Pisaro her husband Jim, and Rebecca Lea the part of Paula. The ensemble was conducted by Jonathan Lo and the director was Adam Strickson.
Amy Johnson, the girl from Hull, paved the way for women today. She flew around the world, took huge risks and made history. In 1958, the 'Amy Johnson Collection' of souvenirs was presented by her father to Sewerby Hall, Bridlington. This provided the inspiration for Amy’s Last Dive, especially her monogrammed pigskin bag which survived her fatal crash into the Thames Estuary in 1941. Her body was never recovered.
Amy’s Last Dive explores what it would be like for a young woman today to meet her, and the place of love and solo flight in Amy’s life. We begin in 1934 when her fame was at its height, four years after her solo flight to Australia. In Flamborough, on Yorkshire’s East Coast, a group of young women, ‘The Fisher Girls Dance Troupe’, are preparing for their performance of the village’s famous longsword dance at Leeds Town Hall. They talk about their heroine ‘Amy, wonderful Amy’ and their trip to the big city. Amy’s ghost rises up in the final lock or ‘star’ of the dance and the chorus sing about her last moments in the snow above the sea.
We are then transported to Midwinter’s Day, 2010. Paula, a young woman from a Thames Estuary town, is jogging along the beach. She finds a pigskin bag. Out of the fog, a weird shivering figure emerges and asks for the bag, saying it contains her maps and charts. Paula says that if she promises to tell her who she is, she will return the bag after fetching a hot drink and a blanket.
Amy reflects on ‘who she is’. We hear muffled groans from the bottom of an old rowing boat. A bandaged figure slowly rises; it is Jim Mollison, Amy’s husband, looking as he did in hospital after they crashed near Connecticut on their dual flight across the Atlantic in 1933. Amy and Jim, ‘The Flying Sweethearts’, play out this flight and their tempestuous relationship, using the boat as their plane. They crash, thanks to Jim’s insistence on a final push to New York without sufficient fuel. Amy resolves to ‘fly solo forever’.
In an interlude, also set on Midwinter’s Day 2010, a group of young people arrive to set up a bonfire on the beach. They reflect on their fears and wishes for the future.
Paula returns and Amy tells her who she is. Paula recalls hearing about Amy Johnson at Junior School. She gives her the pigskin bag. Amy celebrates the real love of her life, Jason, the Gypsy Moth in which she flew to Australia. Her ghost disappears into the fog, leaving Paula with a renewed sense of purpose for her own future.
The opera loosely follows the structure of a Japanese Noh play, in which it is typical for someone in the present to meet a ghost who recounts the highly charged emotional story of their life on earth. These plays can be divided into JO, HA and KYU. JO-HA-KYU is a dynamic and continuous process, like the growing of a flower from seed to bloom. It may be translated as PRELUDE – BREAKING – RAPID. In Amy’s Last Dive, JO is the appearance of the ghost; HA is Amy and Jim’s transatlantic flight and KYU Amy’s hymn to the thrills of solo flight.
© Adam Strickson
Performance history (post-premiere)
6th July 2012 - The Spa Theatre, Bridlington (two performances).