Torlef Borsting and his wife, Cass Panuska, never intended to become opera singers. Stumbling upon the art form in college, though, led them to where they are today: singing arias across the country and living in an Airstream trailer.
Borsting, a University of Oregon graduate, and Panuska packed up their family, which includes their 2- and 5-year-old sons, from their home in Pleasant Hill, California, to move to DeLand, Florida. The couple is performing in Eugene this weekend, April 29, as a part of their Singing Airstream 2018 tour.
The baritone and soprano integrated performances into their cross-country trip because they wanted to have more artistic control over their careers.
“We wanted to put something together that we rehearsed on our own time, and do all music we wanted to do,” Panuska says.
Borsting and Panuska are moving to a 12-acre property in DeLand, intending to bring new music opportunities to the community. The couple plans to turn part of their space into a music studio and performance area for people.
In their two- to five-year plan, Borsting says, he and Punuska will convert the in-law apartment attached to their new house into a small teaching and performance space for students.
Eventually, Borsting and Panuska want to build a larger performance space outdoors on their property.
“The only piece of the puzzle is to get there and see what makes sense in the community,” Borsting says. “Based on what we feel right now, we have gotten a lot of positive encouragement.”
Borsting and Panuska did not discover their passion for operatic singing until college. Borsting, who was a tuba-playing performance major at the UO, was cleaning up after an opera workshop when he began mimicking the opera singers. He was encouraged to try out for choirs, and began training and watching operas in his free time.
“I saw that first one and I just couldn’t look away. It was like a light went on and suddenly I was an opera singer,” Borsting says.
Panuska was a graduate student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins when she got into a voice program. She was later given the role of Laurie in the Aaron Copland opera The Tender Land and has studied classical voice ever since.
The last two stops on the tour are Eugene and Fort Collins. The Eugene performance will take place 4 pm April 29 at Central Lutheran Church, 18th Avenue and Potter Street, across from the University of Oregon. The event is free, with donations suggested.
“It’s kind of a nice homecoming for me,” Borsting says.
The couple will perform a variety of pieces: classic music theater, traditional songs, opera, duets and a set of songs by Jon Bilotta. Panuska says they put some songs in the program that would be both fun and family friendly.
“There is something for everybody,” Borsting says.
Panuska says she enjoys having their music prepared so that they can do it while they are travelling, although being on the road comes with its own set of struggles, from maintaining the trailer to making sure all their pieces are ready for performance.
“You may not be getting as much as sleep as you like,” Panuska says. “I find it invigorating, that challenge.”
After their performance in Fort Collins, Borsting and Panuska will continue meandering their way through the United States, stopping occasionally to see friends and sights until they reach DeLand.
They are taking their time because this is the last time they can do a trip like this, Panuska says, before their older son starts kindergarten.
“It’s really amazing to have this road trip,” Borsting says. ■