Originally encouraged to become a singer while training as a pastry chef, Bastianini joined the cathedral choir of Siena and began to study as a bass in 1939. He gave his first professional concerts during 1940 and 1941 and in 1942 won first prize in the National Singing Competition in Florence. Shortly afterwards he joined the Italian Air Force, serving between 1943 and 1944. At the beginning of 1945 he returned to sing in concert, and in November of that year he made his operatic début as Colline/La bohème in Ravenna. During 1946 he was able to take up the singing scholarship offered as part of the prize by the National Singing Competition, and at the same time appeared in a variety of bass rôles in several smaller Italian opera houses. In 1947 he toured Egypt and in 1948 made his début at La Scala, Milan, as Tiresias/Oedipus Rex. Following continuous appearances in Italy, further tours of Egypt, a short season in Venezuela (1949) and his first broadcast in 1950, he gave his final performance as a bass in Turin in April 1951 as Colline. He now studied to become a baritone, encouraged by his teacher, Luciano Bettarini.
Bastianini’s début as a baritone took place in January 1952, when he sang Germont père/La traviata in Siena. This was not a success, but after further intensive study he returned to sing the title rôle in Rigoletto, this time to acclaim. He quickly established himself as one of Italy’s leading younger baritones, appearing in a succession of successful productions at the Florence Maggio Musicale: Tomsky/The Queen of Spades (1952), Andrey/War and Peace (1953), Yeletsky/The Queen of Spades and the title rôle in Mazeppa (1954). In December 1953 he made his début at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Germont père, followed by his first appearance as a baritone at La Scala, Milan, in the title rôle of Eugene Onegin in May 1954.
Between the autumn of 1954 and the spring of 1957 Bastianini sang regularly at the Metropolitan, his rôles including Amonasro/Aida, Gérard/Andrea Chénier, di Luna/Il trovatore, Enrico/Lucia di Lammermoor, Escamillo/Carmen, Germont père, Marcello/La bohème, Rodrigo/Don Carlo, and Rigoletto. He returned to the Metropolitan in 1960 to sing, in addition to his staple rôles, Don Carlo/La forza del destino and in January 1965 Scarpia/Tosca. He also appeared with the Chicago Lyric Opera regularly between 1955 and 1958.
In Europe during the mid-1950s Bastianini appeared in historic productions, many of which have fortunately been preserved through unofficial recordings. These included La traviata conducted by Giulini (1955) and Un ballo in maschera conducted by Gavazzeni (1957), both with Maria Callas at La Scala, and Ernani at the Maggio Musicale conducted by Mitropoulos (1957). In addition, from 1956 onwards he recorded complete studio accounts of many of the operas in his core repertoire for Decca.
During 1958 Bastianini extended his repertoire. His rôles now included Scarpia at Naples, and Belcore/L’elisir d’amore, Ernesto/Il pirata, and the title rôle in Nabucco, all at La Scala. He also made his débuts at the Salzburg Festival in Il trovatore, conducted by Karajan, and at the Vienna State Opera as Scarpia, developing a strong relationship with this opera house and its audience which lasted until the end of his career. He continued to sing new rôles, adding to his repertoire Michonnet/Adriana Lecouvreur (Naples, 1959), Severo/Poliuto (Milan, 1960) and Rolando/La battaglia di Legnano (Milan, 1961). He appeared for the first time with the Dallas Opera in 1959 and with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company in 1961, and made his only appearance at Covent Garden in 1962 as Riccardo/Un ballo in maschera.
Following the death of his mother from cancer in April 1962, Bastianini was himself diagnosed with cancer of the throat in November of that year. He kept this knowledge only to his immediate circle, and following treatment in Switzerland during early 1963 returned to his operatic career with performances in Vienna, Salzburg and Tokyo, making what was to be his last appearance at La Scala in December 1963 as Rodrigo.
During the final years of his career Bastianini’s performances were variable: he continued to appear at Vienna (where he sang his last new rôle, Méphistophélès/La Damnation de Faust, in 1964) and in Chicago, Florence, Cairo and New York. Here he made his final appearance on the operatic stage, in December 1965, as Rodrigo. The possessor of a rich and powerful voice with range, which he used with subtlety and musicality, Bastianini was unrivalled at the height of his career in his core repertoire of Romantic Italian opera, as the numerous live recordings of his performances clearly demonstrate.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).