Tonadilla was a Spanish musical song form of theatrical origin; not danced. The genre was a type of short, satirical musical comedy popular in 18th-century Spain, and later in Cuba and other Spanish colonial countries.

It originated as a song type, then dialogue for characters was written into the tonadilla, and it expanded into a miniature opera lasting from 10 to 20 minutes. It drew its personages from everyday life and included popular and folk music and dance, and vernacular language. The tonadilla also influenced the development of the zarzuela, the characteristic form of Spanish musical drama or comedy.

The first tonadilla is ascribed to Luis Misson in 1757.[1][2] Notable composers of tonadillas in Spain included Blas de Laserna, Pablo Esteve, Joaquín Rodrigo and Jacinto Valledor.

The tonadilla was particularly popular in Cuba where more than 200 stage tonadillas were sung between 1790 and 1814, the year in which they began to be displaced from Havana programs, finding new life in the Cuban provinces.[3]

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  1. The NATS bulletin: the official magazine of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (U.S.) - 1971 p41 "Four years after the establishment by Luis Misson of the tonadilla escenica in 1757, Pablo Esteve, a Catalan, came to Madrid and wrote his first tonadilla."
  2. Ethel Rose Peyser, Marion Bauer How opera grew: from ancient Greece to the present day- 1956 - Page 225 "They make a colorful basis for a national opera, like the tonadilla, invented in 1757 by Luis Misson of Madrid. The first tonadilla was a duet between the landlady and a needy Bohemian. All tell of simple scenes of popular life and are very ..."
  3. Carpentier, Alejo 2001 [1945]. Music in Cuba. Minneapolis MN. p125
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