While Ettore Bastianini's career was quite short, it was also distinguished. He was regarded as having one of the finest Verdi and verismo voices of his day, though his vocal gifts were not always matched by an equal musicianship.
Bastianini studied privately with Gaetano Vanni, and sang in the local choir. His professional solo debut was in a concert in Siena early in 1945, and his operatic debut was at the Ravenna opera as Colline in Puccini's La bohème later that year. He sang at the smaller houses throughout Italy and even went abroad to Cairo with a touring company, still singing the bass repertoire, including Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust. His La Scala debut was in 1948 as Tirésias in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. During these years, he began to wonder if he was truly a bass, and in 1951, he made his debut as a baritone early in 1951 at the Bologna Opera as Germont in Verdi's La traviata. However, the performance was not especially successful, and he resumed intense studies over the next few months, giving special attention to developing his upper register. When he returned to the stage that summer, he had achieved just that goal, and his high notes were now considered his vocal glory. In 1953, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Germont, following that in 1954 with his La Scala debut in the title role of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. In 1956, he made his Chicago debut as Riccardo in Bellini's I puritani. In 1962, he made his Covent Garden debut as Renato in Un ballo in maschera. Early in 1963, he left the stage for a few months, letting it be understood that he was resting, but in fact, he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. His return performances and subsequent performances were poorly received, often with booing from the audience, as he was often hoarse, off-pitch, and under-powered. While he was deeply dismayed at this, he still did not speak of his illness; for all except family and close friends, it came as a complete surprise until after the announcement of his death. His last performance was in 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera.