Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Grand opera is such an easy mark for travesty it hardly seems worth the trouble, unless the results somehow transcend ridicule. The nice thing about Tom Johnson's "The Four Note Opera" is that its malice is tinged with canny affection. The author is so obviously hipped on what he's lampooning that he even adores its idocies.

Johnson is a critic by profession, one whose coverage of new music for The Village Voice is a model of lucidity and good sense. This little parody of his, composed in 1971, partakes of the same qualities, along with a lovely deadpan wit.

The work was produced Sunday night by the Cedar Lane Stage in Bethesda in a performance that had much more savvy and tact than one has any right to expect of a community theater enterprise. Much credit belongs to scage director Perry Glaser, musical director Bert Wirth and an able cast of five.

"The Four Note Opera" manages in 60 minutes to poke gentle fun at every aspect of the genre, from the vanity of singers to the melodramatic excesses they have to cope with. The title is meant quite literally - the score uses four notes and four notes only, allowing for octave equivalents. Johnson extracts quite a bit of tunefulness out of these materials, and no little hilarity as well. The whole opus, by the way, is a natural for television.