Cathie Anderson

Former Sacramento foster child now a rising opera singer

Tenor Jeffrey Treganza studied voice at Chico State and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music before embarking on an opera career in Europe. He would later get a doctoral degree in Germany.
Tenor Jeffrey Treganza studied voice at Chico State and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music before embarking on an opera career in Europe. He would later get a doctoral degree in Germany.

Audiences of 6,000 a night packed a lakeside stage in Austria this summer to see world-class opera singers perform Johann Strauss’ “A Night in Venice,” and there portraying macaroni cook Pappacoda was Sacramento native Jeffrey Treganza.

The man who sings with what European critics have described as a radiant, dazzling tenor did not see his first opera until 1990, when he was in college at Chico State. Born Jeffery Allen Boyer, Treganza floated between foster and group homes in the Sacramento region almost from birth.

It wasn’t until age 12 that he met the people he calls mom and dad, Donald and Dorothy Treganza, now residents of Shingle Springs. The Treganzas had a definite idea of what they needed to do to mold a child’s character and curb unruly behavior, their son said.

“I consider myself extremely fortunate,” he said. “I would not be where I am, doing what I’m doing if I had not met them. I think I would be a very unsuccessful, low-level criminal.”

Donald Treganza, a former military man who later became a lecturer at Sierra College and Sacramento State, said: “If you ever want a challenge, bring in a 12-year-old foster child who has never had any discipline or guidance or love or any of the things that most children should have.”

Of his father, Jeff Treganza said: “He was tough. He has this uncanny ability of asking questions and leading you through your own thought process. He was constantly going around talking to my teachers, asking about me. He would show up when I didn’t know he was going to be there.”

Like his son, Donald Treganza had been a struggling student years ago. He was well behind his peers at school but surpassed them in Scouting. Luckily, he said, one of his Scouting leaders was also a high school teacher, and he learned that administrators had written off this exemplary Scout as a dropout. That teacher tutored, encouraged and challenged Treganza to a 3.75 grade point average by his senior year.

An Eagle Scout, Donald Treganza became a Boy Scout leader himself as an adult, and he met Jeff while serving as director of a campground at Bear Lake. He overheard another troop leader extolling a 12-year-old boy who stood out for his intellect and good manners among a ragtag group of boys there on scholarship. That evening, on a walking tour of the campgrounds, Donald Treganza spotted a boy playing with a spider, and something told him this was Jeff. It was.

He observed him for several days and came away with the impression that Jeff had a good moral conscience, so he placed a call to his social worker. She told him that Jeff had been removed from his home as an infant because he was emaciated, he said, and later attempts to reunite the boy with his birth mother had not been good for his welfare. Donald Treganza then consulted his wife, their children and his own mother, and with their blessing, he told the social worker they would like to take Jeff. A few weeks later, the boy arrived at their home, then in Foresthill.

The family endured trial-by-Boyer as the tween proceeded to get into fights, fib and skirt household chores and homework. He met his match with his foster father who, while holding him to a high standard, met all but the most serious infractions with a dose of humor and lots of questions aimed at helping him understand his own actions.

Jeff Treganza told me his father caught him in virtually every lie. Donald Treganza also made him redo any chore not done properly and tutored him in schoolwork until he got it. And fighting?

Well, that ended after one memorable bout that Jeff had on a school bus, Administrators told Treganza that his son could be expelled from the bus, and he told Boyer that if that happened, he would have to walk to school and home. They then lived 5 miles from Placer High School in Auburn.

The boy told his foster father: “You’d never make me do that.”

Treganza’s response: “Try me.”

Treganza said he would have followed his son in the car, but by no means would he have given him a ride. Jeff Treganza said his father was of “the three strikes and you’re out” mentality. Rewards – and discipline – both came swiftly, and Jeff never tested him when it came to behavior on the bus.

“We also gave him more love than he knew what to do with,” Donald Treganza said. “He knew after a while that we were here to support him, even though we might not be really pleased with what he did.”

Jeff Treganza recalled getting “one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received” from the Treganzas: a trumpet. He had shown a love of music early in grade school, asking officials at a group home in Sacramento whether he could get a trumpet. They rented one for him, and he taught himself to read music and to play.

As Jeff settled in at the Treganzas, he did well in band, vastly improved his grades, and earned the coveted Eagle Scout rank. He also had adopted Treganza as his last name and was calling his foster parents Mom and Dad.

However, he still acted out in ways that frustrated his parents and his older brother and sister, both men said, and at age 18, he left home and cut ties with his family. His father attributes much of his behavioral issues to his desire to be adopted. The Treganzas wanted the same thing, but his birth mother refused permission.

Jeff Treganza wound up at Chico State, studying music, with a focus on the trumpet. He also joined the student choir and, in 1990, went with them on a summer tour of Poland, Germany, the Baltic states and what was then the Soviet Union. One of the highlights, Jeff Treganza said, was joining other American choirs and renowned soloists to perform Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation.”

Sharon Paul, then choral director at Chico State, recalled Treganza as a charismatic performer who showed outstanding promise. The summer tour inspired him to change his focus to voice.

The whole time he studied at Chico State, Treganza’s foster parents and siblings never gave up hope that he would return to the fold, and they reached out to him until the family bond was re-established.

He completed his bachelor’s degree at Chico and competed against roughly 600 people for one of nine spots at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He was admitted.

Even after being burnished by that elite program, Treganza said: “I was a little bit of a fraidy cat. ... I didn’t feel ready to walk out on a stage and start giving these audition arias that would be expected of someone in my voice category.”

He got his master’s degree in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he felt confident enough to commit to an opera career. He wanted full-time employment in one place, he said, rather than freelancing like many elite opera singers. Germany had 75 government-funded opera companies in a nation about the size of Wyoming, he said, so he auditioned for spots there and secured one. He also got a doctoral degree in vocal pedagogy from a university there. Since that time, Jeffrey Treganza has performed about 60 solo parts between his work in opera-obsessed Germany and now in Vienna with the Vienna Volksoper.

Whenever he gets a chance, he returns home to spend time with his family in Shingle Springs.

On one such trip 11 years ago, virtually the whole Treganza clan set off for the El Dorado County Courthouse, where Donald and Dorothy Treganza officially adopted him.