Atlantov was one of the reigning singers at the Bolshoi Theater in the 1960s and '70s, with a powerful voice, particularly in the top register, and emotional intensity well-suited for overwrought roles such as Don José in Carmen and Gherman in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. As can often happen with such powerful voices, however, more than occasionally he fell into the habit of emphasizing power and volume over subtlety and ignoring any dynamic marking less than forte.
His family was a musical one and he studied at the Leningrad Conservatory, graduating in 1963, and making his debut at the Kirov Theater the same year. From 1963 to 1965, he also studied at La Scala's apprentice singer program, and returning to the Soviet Union, won the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition, and joined the Bolshoi the year after. While most of his career was in the Soviet Union, he did make occasional appearances abroad, including his Covent Garden debut in 1987 as Otello.