Sainete (theatrical play)

The sainete criollo is a type of theatrical piece which played an important role in the evolution of tango songs. It originated in 17th century Spain where it was often performed during interludes and featured musical parts and singing. In Argentina the sainete evolved into an independent genre and became an important vehicle for tango songs to emerge and become a part of popular culture.

In early 17th century Spain, the sainete was a very short comedy of popular tone. It usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters and included musical parts and singing. 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.

When social context in Spain called for the creation shorter plays in the mid 19th century, zarzuelas were divided between two genre: the genero grande (long genre) and the genero chico (short genre). The sainete was assimilated to the genero chico (short genre) to create affordable, popular plays of approximately 45 minutes.

Meanwhile in Argentina the sainete continued to develop as an independent genre, combining elements of the circo criollo (circus) and tango. Unlike the original Spanish sainete, the sainte criollo was not pure comedy. It continued to feature scenes of ordinary life but incorporated elements of drama and became a of reflection of local realities such as life in the conventillos, the shared houses where modest families of immigrants used to live in close proximity in the city of Buenos Aires.

The sainete criollo played an important part in the emergence of the tango canción in the 1920’s. The first tango canciónMi noche triste by Pascual Contursi was popularized through a sainete, “Los dientes del Perro” by  José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach. The tango canción is the kind of tango promoted by Carlos Gardel and it played an important role in the transition between the guardia vieja and the guardia nueva.

Many more tango songs were written for sainetes following the phenomenal success of  Mi noche triste. They were often premiered by actors such as Tita Merello and Sofia Bozan and recorded by singers such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini.

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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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