An Operatic Turn
by Brooks Thorlaksson
”More than anything else it was Boni, portrayed this evening by Jeffrey Treganza, who orchestrated laugh after laugh, provoked spontaneous applause, and finally got the audience to go wild and really start clapping. … His incredible stage presence, his lively comedy, almost acrobatic, was simply overwhelming. He’s a combination of elegant singer, supple dancer, breathtaking tap dancer, and an entertainer with top hat and cane, perhaps even a cavalier and seducer. In any event, he’s got it all. And what a pity for those who have not experienced him.”
Critic Florian Felderer, writing for Der Neue Merker in 2011, never would have guessed that this showstopper of a singer and actor had begun his life on the streets, in and out of foster homes.
Jeffrey Treganza (BA, Music, ’93), whose performance in the operetta The Gypsy Princess in Vienna inspired Felderer’s admiration, began his journey to that stage in Austria as a ward of the court in California, where he was reported to be a “battered child, with low self-esteem, depressed, angry, defiant toward authority, with poor peer relationships, poor physical fitness, and some school problems.”
At age 11, when Treganza was living in a community shelter, a perceptive social worker saw him in a different light. “At our first meeting, it became apparent he was also bright, curious, related well, was interested in everything, was idealistic, and had a strong sense of justice,” wrote the social worker who was given his case.
Taking a chance, she recommended Treganza for a scholarship to Boy Scout summer camp. That summer, he got acquainted with the camp program director, who volunteered to become his foster family. “When Jeff came to our family three years ago, he was like a sturdy ship without a compass,” wrote Donald (Skip) Treganza back then. “He had a strong desire to sail to great and glorious places, but he drifted aimlessly without plan or direction.”
Treganza credits his new family not only with giving him a sense of direction but also with teaching him the importance of character. “I unexpectedly met the Treganzas when I was 11 years old,” he remembers. “At the time, I had all but given up on the idea of finding a home. It was a major turning point in my life.”
California State University, Chico was another important turning point for Treganza. A childhood passion for music led him to the trumpet, which he taught himself to play. When he came to CSU, Chico in the fall of 1988, he quickly found his voice and his musical passion singing in the Chamber Singers choir with Sharon Paul, then a music professor and director of choral activities at CSU, Chico, and the Opera Workshop program with Professor Gwen Curatilo (MA, Music, ’78), now retired from the University.
Paul took 60 students, including Treganza, on a three-week performance tour in Germany, Poland, the former Soviet Union, and Finland as part of an appearance at the International Choral Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, in 1990. The newly created Donald Gerth Choral Scholarship was awarded to Treganza and helped pay his tour expenses. The Chico State Choir joined with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, and two other American choirs to perform Haydn’s The Creation under the baton of Estonian conductor Eri Klas and three professional soloists.
When Treganza returned to Chico, he changed his emphasis from trumpet to voice. “I was so deeply moved by my experience on tour I knew this was the direction I wanted to go,” he says.
His professional singing career took off in the proverbial way: lots of gigs, lots of traveling, lots of study (earning a Master of Music from the University of Cincinnati and PhD from Martin Luther University in Germany), much exhaustion, more traveling, many auditions, and then—success!
Treganza has now been a professional opera singer for 15 years—the last four as a principal artist with the Vienna Volksoper, the top house for operetta in the world and one of Vienna’s oldest concert halls for musical entertainment. He has performed all over the world (see www.jeffreytreganza.com for more on his performances). In 2000 he returned to Chico to sing in Naughty Marietta with alumna Tamara Alspaugh under the direction of Patrick Kopp, then director of University Public Events.
Coincidentally, one of Treganza’s first professional European engagements was in the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria, as tenor soloist in Haydn’s The Creation, 11 years after seeing that oratorio on the tour with the Chico State Choir.
“And now, after another 13 years, it comes back my way again: I will be tenor soloist in Die Schöpfung in May with members of the Vienna Boys Choir High School Chorus Juventus performing in the Concert Hall of the Vienna Boys Choir here in Vienna,” says Treganza.
Being principal artist at the Volksoper has brought Treganza even closer to one of his dreams: singing for the Vienna State Opera. “The Vienna Volksoper is a major step up in my professional career and a very short step away from the Vienna State Opera, one of the world’s leading opera houses, on par with the Metropolitan Opera in New York,” he says.
Treganza is married to Anne, also a professional singer, whom he met during a production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Darmstadt, Germany. They live in Vienna with their 3-year-old son, Jacob, in what is truly a “great and glorious place,” as his foster father predicted so many years ago.
About the author
Brooks Thorlaksson (MA, English, ’78) retired as associate dean of the CSU, Chico College of Humanities and Fine Arts in 2012. She accompanied the Chico State Choir on the Eastern European tour led by Professor Sharon Paul.