The zarzuela dates back to the mid-17th century. The name may have originated from a stage overgrown with bramble bushes (zarzas) at the royal hunting lodge or Palace of Zarzuela near Madrid, where actors gathered to present their plays to entertain King Philip IV and his court. It was initially a short court play with music, dancing and spoken dialogue, similar to the well-defined three act "comedia" genre.
These events gave birth to a musical form that would later be called "la zarzuela", a Spanish form of light opera which mixes spoken dialogue with music. This tradition became popular in the second half of the 19th century. The zarzuela is still performed today, but few new works have been written since the early 20th century.