The Pirates of Penzance, 2017. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Felice Romani

Perhaps best remembered today for writing the words of The Elixir of Love, Felice Romani was one of the most sought-after librettists of his day, and it is estimated that more than one hundred different composers set his texts to music.

Romani was born in Genoa in 1788, the eldest child of what came to be a one-parent family with an absent dad. Nevertheless, he was able to obtain a university education, after which he eventually settled in Milan and made a name for himself in literary circles. His first libretti were for J. S. Mayr, Donizetti’s mentor.

Though he preferred the classics, he found it profitable to give in to the growing interest in the works of the romantic novelists and poets of the day. In an age when composers generally jumped from one librettist to another, Bellini relied on him for the libretti of most of his major works, including Norma and La Somnambula. Romani, in turn, found the more formal style of Bellini suited to his style of verse.

In addition to Elixir, he also supplied Donizetti with several other libretti, including Anna Bolena and Lucrezia Borgia. Rossini also used his libretti on a number of occasions, most significantly Il turco in Italia. His one collaboration with Verdi, unfortunately, was a disaster, and the failure of Un giorno di regno nearly caused Verdi to give up opera for good.

Romani died in January, 1865.

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