Renegades: George Lyons and Nathan Johnson endeavor to bring non-traditional opera to RI

What images do you think of when you hear “opera”? Possibly you think of a crowd of older gentlemen who resemble the Monopoly man, with top hats and monocles. Perhaps you imagine their wives in elegant dresses and pearls, ready to watch a fat lady in a Viking helmet sing in Italian through opulent binoculars. You may think of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in the classic Looney Tunes episodes “What’s Opera, Doc?” or “The Rabbit Of Seville.” You may believe that the opera medium is antiquated or possibly even dead. 

Nathan Johnson and George Lyons of Renegade Music & Concerts (Renegade MAC) would argue that it is still a “vital piece of theater.” With a surprisingly young, passionate fanbase, new operas debut weekly on professional stages. Johnson says that he is certain that if you look, you will find an opera where you say “wow, this really speaks to me.”  

Renegade MAC wants to provide a more accessible opera experience, that a both a common person can be welcomed into the artform or an experienced person can truly find something different. 


A few years ago, the two founded Renegade MAC in South Florida, where opera has a large fanbase. They realized that the South Florida opera market was saturated enough to warrant a move, saw an untapped market in RI and decided to move the company here. Though there are a few orchestras that perform instrumental classical music in RI, to their knowledge they are the only professional classical vocalist company in the state.

Both ardent fans and performers of opera, both Johnson and Lyons wanted to focus on the non-traditional operas that their “competitors” did not do, hence the “Renegade” part of their name. While other companies may put on performances of well-known shows such as Carmen, Tosca or The Magic Flute, they wanted to focus on lesser-known shows. “If someone wants to see one of those iconic shows, you very likely would be able to find a professional rendition of any major opera you so desire online quickly,” Lyons said. They plan on producing some shows that are in English or truly wonderful pieces that have fallen out of the mainstream. 

For now, the company is small. In the recent past and present, they have been able to produce concerts where they have hired professional singers to join them for these shows. Johnson added that though much of what they perform is public domain, the real costs are hiring these singers, renting out the space that they will be performing in, insurance and other small expenses that crop up. They do not earn much revenue from ticket sales which is why they rely on sponsorship through Fractured Atlas, a non-profit company that provides business tools for artists. They hope that soon they will be able to put on a full opera in the near future. 

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