Bob Ciano was art director of Opera News magazine for three and a half years in the late 1960s. Published for members of the Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York, the magazine cost just 35 cents, but its covers were worth a million bucks. Ciano was the conductor of an ensemble of superb illustrators, including Milton Glaser, whose artworks were preludes to choruses of articles inside. From San Francisco, Ciano told me a little bit about these gems.
What was your plan for these singular covers?
The “plan” grew out of a form I found in the files at Opera News. I had never worked at a magazine before, so I was looking for all the help I could find. The form was used by a previous art director, Paolo Lionni, son of the famous art director/illustrator Leo Lionni. It was basically a rejection letter:
Your Art work is being returned for the following reasons:
____Lack of Color
And so on. The one I found was addressed to Alexander Calder. I thought the idea of going to famous artists was a good one, and so I adopted the idea, but I didn’t use the rejection form. (Side note: The fee was $100 per cover, plus two tickets for the opera that was the subject of the cover art.)
You used a lot of illustrators. Who were you favorites and why?
I used illustrators for a few reasons. It was a way to give the magazine a look. And I knew the cover subjects a year in advance—they were the operas that were broadcast on the radio
on Saturday afternoons. I could give the artists a lot of time, and that helped them say yes. Most opera photography looked alike and was used more to record the scene and sets.
Did you have a favorite cover? I love the one with dominated by black with a small circle and a battleship.
Anything by Milton Glaser, Stanislaw Zagorski and Erté. I always asked artists whose work I admired, figuring the worst that could happen is that they would say no, though very few did. Favorite cover that didn’t run: One for the opera Carmen done by the artist Richard Lindner.
Why did you leave the magazine?
I was offered a job by Bill Cadge at Redbook, so I went off to be his assistant.