If you have fond memories of "The Bullwinkle Show" on NBC, you are probably middle-aged and enjoy gentle, slightly surreal satire with lots of puns and other verbal humor. It was one of the most literate programs on network TV, thinly disguised as a children's cartoon show, and naturally it couldn't last--though it reappears now and then on cable, and a movie is scheduled for release later this year.

Meanwhile, a children's opera, "Les Moose: The Operatic Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," has been composed with a libretto based on some of the TV show's early episodes and music and lyrics by Los Angeles composer Alan Chapman. It was performed by the Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater in Arlington in a matinee Thursday. The audience was divided about evenly between schoolchildren and seniors, and it managed to entertain both age groups equally. The music is serviceable but not extraordinary. The performances and plot (about spies trying to steal the secret formula for mooseberry rocket fuel) captured with precision the spirit of the old TV show.

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Blaze was the wimpishly heroic Bullwinkle J. Moose and also (with quick costume changes backstage) the sinister, incredibly slinky spy Natasha Fatale. Tenor Doug Bowles was Rocky the flying squirrel and the bungling secret agent Boris Badenov. Each had arias in both of their roles but were at their best when they were bad. Boris, "the world's greatest nogoodnick," appeared at one point disguised as a Girl Scout selling cookies and confided that "If I can make for you some trouble, I'm so glad." Natasha recalled her girlish wonderment over "why must a spy be a guy." Against all sober expectation, it was a classic performance.

Two excellent local singers, tenor James Jones and soprano Melissa Unkel, performed impressively in a variety of small roles. Unkel's next scheduled performance will be as Orlovsky in the Victorian Lyric Opera's "Die Fledermaus," a role for which she seems superbly qualified.

Conductor John Edward Niles and stage director Jane Christenson lavished on this production all the expertise they might have given to Verdi or Puccini.

There will be repeat performances today at 2 and 4:15 p.m.