Libretto by Gavin Ewart (E)
Boys and Girls Come Out to Play is an opera buffa in two acts, inspired by the life and work of the great Cynthia Payne, Robin Hood of the sad British sex-life; and also the compassionate/dispassionate case-histories of sexual behaviour by the great 19th century physician Richard von Kraft-Ebing.
Act I sets up situation and characters. Variously frustrated individuals arrive at a house of many functions wherein their troubles can be resolved – the disgruntled husband seeks divorce, his neglected wife needs a touch of glamour, the tormented gay man seeks psychotherapy, the straightforward young man needs relief for a raging toothache. Meanwhile a saturnine workman attends to the plumbing. A confidence-trickster couple share the various in-house roles (dentist, lawyer, couturier, etc), with a nice young girl acting as assistant to them all. Once the entire cast of eight is present on the premises, things go berserk. Just when everyone thinks he or she is going to get whatever it was they came for (together with some promising new prospects) they are upstaged by sinister power emanating from the mysterious workman.
Act II follows the consequence in a formalized and highly unrealistic pattern of sexual machinations manipulated by the mysterious workman’s libidinal power. Individual fantasies within the house alternate with sexual pursuit and conquest in its garden, resulting in duets, trios, quartets, quintets, ranging through a great variety of moods from tender to triumphant. It’s Cosí cubed: in the end everyone has encountered everyone else, and what began in high-spirited satumalia ends up bitter, violent, coarse, orgiastic. Disgusted by what he has unleashed, the workman/anarchist/lord of misrule blows it to bits.
An orchestral interlude shows foliage gradually reclaiming the bomb-site. It’s now "the morning after" – every character creeps back in disillusion and despair, turning to accusation of the pair who seem to have been the cause. Both sing a set-piece of vindication. Hers, The Ballad of the Awful Life, fixes the source firmly in the drab 1950s before "sexual intercourse began" (as Larkin has it): his tells of how his wish to rescue poor starved lives brought them together in common idealism.
The general mood is now re-invigorated. A sort of apotheosis of the Gilbert and Sullivan. patter-song follows, in which some of the most bizarre or touching episodes in the enterprize’s early days are related, gradually incorporating everyone’s own particular specialized contributions; the entire Vaudeville ends in a heartfelt hymn to the power and pleasure of sex.
In the finale the two newly-integrated couples sing in quartet, the two old-stagers (in duet) decide to see out their old age together, and even the two odd-men-out see that they too could make a go of things. The opera ends with a series of four exits á deux, setting the familiar nursery-rhyme from which the title (and much of the musical material) have grown:
Boys and girls come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day;
Come with a whoop and come with a call,
Come with a will or not at all.