ART

The art in "Special Delivery: Murals for the New Deal Era," now at the National Museum of American Art, has liberated itself from the traditional allegory and pomp of murals. It has an outdoor feeling. You can smell the air. This is America's view of itself at a time when the entire proposition of democracy was in some question, and cosmic doubts hovered over Wall Street and soup line alike.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

The National Symphony and the Washington Opera will both take swings at totalitarianism, bureaucracy and dehumanization this week. Beginning Thursday night, the NSO and the Choral Arts Society, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting, will perform "Babi Yar," Shostakovich's 13th Symphony, set to texts by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, sharply critical of life under Stalin. Saturday night, the Washington Opera will open a new production of Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Consul," which blends the themes of totalitarianism, revolution and -- above all -- the special agonies of those who fall into the impersonal clutches of bureaucracy.

Cellist Carter Brey will be the guest artist with the Montgomery Chamber Orchestra, Saturday night at Montgomery College. Other noteworthy soloists this week will include harpsichordist Ilton Wjuniski, tonight at the Renwick Gallery; guitarist David Perry, Wednesday at noon at Lisner Auditorium; and pianist Chee Hung Tah, tomorrow night at the Levine School of Music.

Tomorrow night's concert at the Corcoran by the Contemporary Music Forum will be dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. The Folger Consort, next weekend at the Folger Shakespeare Library, will focus on the music of the great Elizabethan-Jacobean composer John Dowland.

Other chamber music worth hearing this week will include the U.S. Marine Corps Chamber Music Ensemble, this afternoon at the Library of Congress; the Monticello Trio, today at the Phillips Collection; cellist Yosif Feigelson, today at the National Gallery; violinist Jody Gatwood, Tuesday night at Mount Vernon College; the Empyrean Trio, Saturday night at the Dumbarton Avenue Church; and National Musical Arts, Saturday night at the National Academy of Sciences.

DANCE

Baltimore Dance Theatre, directed by Eva Anderson, performs at Dance Place this afternoon.

Center Dance Ensemble, directed by Bunnye Levey, presents choreography by Levey, Janet Beller, Alcine Wiltz, Alvin Mayes and Frances Smith Cohen at the Jewish Community Center Saturday and Sunday.

And Mark Taylor and Friends, a New York troupe, appears at Dance Place Saturday and Sunday.

FILM

"Moonstruck," an enchanting romantic comedy set in New York City's Little Italy, will definitely steal your heart away. It's a great big beautiful valentine of a movie set beneath the biggest, roundest Christmas moon you ever saw. That other heavenly body Cher stars as a frumpy widow who becomes an Italian American Cinderella when she falls in love with her fiance''s brother, played by Nicolas Cage. The leads make an irresistible, offbeat couple and they are backed by an equally quirky cast of wonderful supporting players -- especially Olympia Dukakis, whose performance is already being touted as Oscar-caliber. Norman Jewison, the versatile director of "A Soldier's Story," has no doubt created his finest work with this surprising combination of "Prizzi's Honor," Woody Allen's Manhattan comedies and the lush Italian fables of the Taviani brothers. You can't watch it without a smile on your face. At area theaters.

POP MUSIC

Marcus Roberts, winner of the first Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, is at the Capital Hilton this afternoon with fellow pianist Glenn Sales.

Pickers of the world, have fun on Saturday night: guitarists John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman are at the Barns, while Tony Rice, Jerry Douglass and Bela Fleck join forces at the Birchmere.

THEATER

Two timely and topical plays in town: at Washington Stage Guild, Oscar Wilde's typically witty "An Ideal Husband" may have been written in 1895, but its themes -- insider trading, sexual blackmail, politicians with pasts -- come straight from 1988 headlines. And at Source's Warehouse Rep, the first post-Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein's "Safe Sex" ventures into the emotional battlefields of the age of AIDS.