The sainete is a type of short theatrical play from Spain which includes musical parts. It was usually performed during interludes until it was integrated to another type of short play, the genero chico, in the 19th century. In Argentina it continued to exist as an independent genre and evolved into the sainete criollo which played an important part in the history of tango.
In the early 17th century Spain, the sainete was a very short comedy of popular tone. It usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters surrounded by other stereotyped characters. The purpose of the sainete was to create a diversion between acts of a longer play or to be performed at the end of a function. It typically included musical parts and singing.
When the economical context in Spain called for the creation shorter plays in the mid 19th century, the zarzuelas were divided between the genero grande (long genre) and the genero chico (short genre). At this point the sainete was used to create short plays of about 45 minutes and assimilated to the genero chico.
In Argentina, the sainete continued to develop as an independent genre. There it was compbined with elements of the circo criollo (circus) and evolved into the sainte criollo.
The sainte criollo usually presented scenes of ordinary life in the conventillos, the shared houses where modest families of immigrants used to live in close proximity to each other in Buenos Aires. Unlike the original sainete, these were not pure comedies anymore and included elements of drama.
In the 1920’s, the sainete criollo played an important part in the emergence of the tango canción, the kind of tango songs which were promoted by Carlos Gardel. The so called first tango song, “Mi noche triste“, was popularized by the sainete “Los dientes del Perro” by José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach.
Following the phenomenal success of “Mi noche triste”, many other tango songs were written for sainetes. These new tango songs were interpreted by the actors such as Tita Merello and Sofia Bozan as well as signers such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini and contributed to create a transition between the guardia vieja and the guardia nueva.
1 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino. La emancipación cultural (1884-1930). Buenos Aires: Galerna, 2002.
2 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. El sainete y el grotesco criollo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Galerna, 2008.