Felice Romani was an Italian poet and scholar of literature and mythology who wrote many librettos for the opera composers Donizetti and Bellini. Romani was considered the finest Italian librettist between Metastasio and Boito.
Born Giuseppe Felice Romani to a bourgeois family, he studied law and literature in Pisa and Genoa. At the University of Genoa he translated French literature and, with a colleague, prepared a six-volume dictionary of mythology and antiquities, including the history of the Celts in Italy. Romani's expertise in French and antiquity is reflected in the libretti he wrote; the majority are based on French literature and many, such as Norma, use mythological sources.
After failing to obtain a post at the University of Genoa, travelled to France, Spain, Greece and Germany before returning to Milan in either 1812 or 1813. There he became friends with important figures in the literary and musical world. He turned down the post of court poet in Vienna, and began instead a career as opera librettist. He wrote two librettos for the composer Simon Mayr, which resulted in his appointment as the librettist for La Scala. Romani became the most highly regarded of all Italian librettists of his age, producing nearly one hundred. In spite of his interest in French literature, he refused to work in Paris.
As a rule, Romani did not create his own stories; he kept up with what was happening in the Paris theatre and adapted plays which were popular there, but this was not always a safe strategy, given the vague intellectual property rights legislation of the time. In one case, Romani prepared a libretto based on the play Lucrezia Borgia by Victor Hugo for the opera Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti, but when it was staged in Paris in 1840, Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled La Rinegata, with the Italian characters changed to Turks.
Romani wrote the librettos for Bellini's Il pirata, La straniera, Zaira, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, La sonnambula, Norma and Beatrice di Tenda, for Rossini's Il turco in Italia and Bianca e Falliero, and Donizetti's Anna Bolena and L'elisir d'amore (which he adapted from Eugène Scribe's Le philtre). He also wrote a libretto (originally for composer Adalbert Gyrowetz) that Verdi used for his early comedy Un giorno di regno.
In 1834 Romani became editor of the Gazzetta Ufficiale Piemontese to which he contributed literary criticism. He retained the post, with a break 1849–1854, until his death, in Moneglia, (in the region of Liguria, Italy). A volume of his lyric poems was published in 1841.