Opera in the Chapel, Mount Vernon College's resident company, stages unfamiliar or unusually produced operatic works with a minimum of scenic hoopla. Part of the reason for the sparseness of the props and backdrops is the chapel itself (the school's own, named for Florence Hollis Hand), which provides little of what could serve as fly space for complicated scenery, but whose interior split levels -- with a bit of ingenuity on the part of a director -- beg for ways to thread interesting, diverting action through the house. So a couple chairs, a piano, a table ... these are the stuff of the company's Opera Gala 90, a program that opened last night and features short pieces by Barber, Monteverdi and Mozart. (It will be repeated Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 p.m.)

After sitting through the whole evening, a major, gnawing question remains: Why, when singers must spend so much time trying to fill large halls and opera houses, straining their voices in the process, would they unceremoniously toss away a chance to stop the bellowing for once (in a small, resonant space like this chapel), perhaps better to sing in tune or, even more important, with careful expression? Apparently, the habit of hollering is one that dies very hard. These performances were for the most part dull and deafening.

Monteverdi's "Il Combattimento," a setting of a poem by Tasso, sparked choreographer Sharon Wyrrick to use the upper, jutting levels of the chapel by having a pair of dancers chase each other through them. It followed Barber's trivial "A Hand of Bridge" and preceded Mozart's "The Impresario," which had a production credits list so long it might have been from a Lucas film. The Mozart, a screaming match if ever there was one, was fatally wounded by Carla Hubner's piano accompaniment.