The magician Zoroastro plays a critical role in Handel's opera Orlando (1733). He opens the first act with a dramatic monologue, keeps the hero Orlando from wreaking too much havoc in his madness, and eventually brings the opera to a peaceful conclusion. Despite his importance to the plot, however, Zoroastro was a late addition to the libretto, created expressly for Handel's production—an addition calculated to appeal to London audiences. The image of Zoroaster (the obvious model for Zoroastro) was prevalent in London during the 1720s and 1730s, appearing prominently in popular literary works of the time, and was particularly associated with Freemasonry. Using Zoroastro/Zoroaster as a starting point, this article reveals the presence Masonic imagery and ideology in Orlando, and suggests that Handel and his librettist were tailoring their operas to the wealthy Masonic-friendly opera audiences of 1730s.
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William Gibbons; Divining Zoroastro: Masonic Elements in Handel's Orlando. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2010; 34 (2): 65–82. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-2009-016
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