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  • Writer's pictureMike Fowler

Norma Tina Russo: Tampa's First Lady of Opera

Since I moved to Tampa almost 20 years ago I've seen the city go through a dramatic transformation. All along the Hillsborough River is a magnificent Riverwalk which features monument busts of those who contributed to the history and culture of Tampa through the years.

One of the projects I've been working on is researching those that are represented. There are some truly fascinating stories to be told and one person that I was especially drawn to was Norma Tina Russo, Tampa's First Lady of Opera.

Admittedly, I know very little about opera and the one time I attended an opera with friends seemed like a night that would never end. What drew me to her was her strength in the face of adversity which is very relevant considering the times we have all been living in.

After researching her life, naturally I headed out the cemetery to try to find her gravesite but the office was less than helpful during that first visit and suggested I just walk through the cemetery in the 100 degree heat. Being mission minded I stocked up on some gatorade whipped open my tour guide umbrella and attempted to locate her. After a few hours and some flirting with heatstroke, I eventually had to give up and decided to try again once the brutal summer ended.

As 2021 started, I began researching Tina again and was especially emboldened after having finally found her grave. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that some of her family were still local and I reached out to see if they could provide a little extra information. I was delighted that not only were they willing to share information, they provided full access to a treasure trove of pictures and documents to help tell her story. In the ensuing weeks we continued to remain in contact as they found more pictures.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the whole process was speaking with and meeting Tina's surviving daughter Rosetta. She lives in Tallahassee now but wanted to come down for a special trip to visit her childhood home which she had not been in for decades. Tina had bought the modest home in the 1930's and lived there until 1968 when a thief broke in, beat her up badly and then took off with several treasures she had collected through the years.

The home had gone into severe disrepair and was on the verge of falling down before some developers rescued the property a few years ago. Rosetta had longed to see her former home and I was honored to be with her and the family as they walked through. Although much had changed with the structure, Rosetta's memories were still as strong as ever.

Please take some time to view the video about Tina's life and comment. I am proud of the work and it got the ultimate stamp of approval from the family. Man, I sweated that first showing of it to them. I hope that you enjoy.

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