Sainete (theatre)

The sainete is a type of theatrical piece from 17th century Spain . It became popular in Argentina where it evolved in parallel with tango into the sainte criollo. Later in the 1920’s it played an important role in popularizing tango as a sentimental song in the style of Carlos Gardel.

In 17th century Spain, sainetes were short comedies to be performed during interludes. They usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters and included musical parts and singing. Their purpose was to create a diversion between acts of a longer play or to be performed at the end of a presentation.

When zarzuelas were divided betewen genero chico and genero grande in the mid 19th century, Spanish saintes became material for the genero chico and disapeared as an independant genre. In Argentina however, it continued to evolve, integrating elements of circus and local culture to form the sainte criollo. 

Unlike the original Spanish version, the sainte criollo is not pure comedy. It features scenes of ordinary life and elements of drama. It evoques, for exemple, life in the conventillos, the shared houses where new immigrants use to live in very close proximity while Buenos Aires was first growing as a city and where the first tangos and saintetes were fomented.

Later in the 1920’s, the sainete criollo played an important part in the renovation of tango and the emergeance of the guardia nueva. It offered a powerful platform for a new style of tango song to be popularized. The first so-called tango canción was “Mi noche triste by Pascual Contursi. It was presented to the public as a part of the sainete “Los dientes del Perro” by  José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach. The success was huge and opened the way for countless classics to be composed, recorded and immediatly integrated into popular culture.

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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.

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