There will always be controversy around the merits of Callas, balancing her acting skills and great dramatic characterization on the one hand (which I think very few dispute) and the sheer technical perfection and timbral beauty of her voice (or shortcomings thereof) on the other. Compound that with the fact that, as the liner notes point out, this recording was made some years after she had abandoned the role on stage, so you'd expect the technical problems to be even more perceptible.
I'm not particularly a Callas fan, in fact I listen to too little 19th Century Italian opera that was the core of her repertoire for me to have any definitive opinion, and at least I've approached this recording with an entirely fresh ear. Hearing this Aida, for me the first factor - the unique characterization - would easily counterbalance any shortcomings in the second. Nobody, not even Leontine Price, reaches even her ankles in the ability to convey the range of emotions of Aida, to fill every word and more than every word, every silence and breath with meaning, intent, and emotion. Details can tell a lot about the whole. Just try, at the beginning of "Ritorna Vincitor", her phrasing of "vincitor del padre mio", CD 1 track 7 at 0:13, with the octave rising leap on "mio". Who has ever sung "mio" with such tenderness? Or try again her "sventurata, che dissi?" at 1:39. Nobody before or since has ever sung it with so much feeling I believe. Or again, in her Act III aria, her first "Patria mia, mai più, mai più ti rivedro" (CD 2 track 6 at 1:54): how can you not weep at such despaired frailty? And when you look at the score, you realize that her attention to the most minute details of Verdi's dynamics is nothing short of phenomenal. Just try, in the same aria, at 3:10, the line "o patria mia, mai più ti rivedro", and listen carefully to her two swells from piano to forte and back. It would be very legitimate and beautiful if it was only the interpreter's choice; but it's all written in the score. One of the things that lends so much expressivity to Callas' singing, and so much more than anybody else's, without most listeners probably knowing why, is that when there are descending octave leaps, she doesn't jump down, but slides in a vocal portamento. Try for instance her two "struggete" in "Ritorna vincitor", CD 1 track 7 at 1:22.
But I don't find either so many shortcomings to her voice as this recording's reputation has it. Sure, some (but very few) of the pianissimo or forte high As or high Cs are not as timbrally creamy as your best and creamiest Aida, like Leontine Price (but Price had her own technical shortcomings in the lower range), and the shrill high-C everybody has zeroed it upon since the original release of this set happens CD 2, track 6 at 5:53. But as for sheer timbre and color, it may be a question of habit (not that I've heard so many Callas recordings, but once you've heard her once it sticks in memory) but while Callas' voice may not have that kind of creamy richness, I find that her very special timbre has more than "beauty": it has a unique character. Tebaldi, Price, they had beautiful timbres, but not anything close to the character of Callas' vocal color, and that alone, even before any characterization of the words being sung, fills Callas' singing with emotion, meaning and intent, and as soon as her first phrase, "ohime, di guerra fremere l'atroce grido io sento" (track 4 at 4:21). Even when she sings the upper part in the trios and ensembles, where the texture is so thick that in all the other recordings you listen to those passages not for acting and characterization but for vocal color and melody because there's not much the soprano can do but to sing in time and let her voice soar, Callas manages to be uniquely expressive, as in the Aida-Amneris-Radames Act I trio, track 4 at 5:20.
As for technical glitches in the vocal production, other than the afore-mentioned high-C, the only thing that I perceive, at some points, is, in the high notes sung either at forte or at pianissimo dynamics, not what I would call a strong vibrato but a strong vibration, as if the vocal chords (membranes in fact) didn't quite have the firmness anymore to sustain the tone. Such moments are not frequent.
So, whatever the merits or demerits of the rest, this is Callas' Aida, really. In vocal characterization, has anything or anybody ever approached it? Cerquetti maybe? But she recorded commercially only "Patria mia", Anita Cerquetti: Grandi Voci, Operatic Arias. Callas' 1951 Mexico live performance, Verdi: Aida, has the reputation of being even better than her studio recording, but based on Callas' arias and duets with Del Monaco (heard on YouTube), I don't find so. It's not just a matter of the poor sound, tubby orchestra, prompter distinctly heard (although it counts). In "Patria mia", the climactic high-C and the final A are not any better than in 1955, and there are more stage histrionics in Callas' characterization, to the point I find of going over the top (to say nothing of Del Monaco, often past the threshold of unbearability). 1955 is just right, and phenomenal. But of course it does not harm if the surrounding/supporting forces are of value.
It was Tucker's second recording, after the live concert performances with Toscanini in 1949 (Aida). Watching Tucker, as you can since the Toscanini concerts were filmed (Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra: The Television Concerts, Vol. 3 : Aida - 1948-52), is a painful experience: he was described by one dismayed critic as "a frog-like choir boy with no expression, movement, or heart". But hearing him is another matter, and I think Tucker was a singer with af huge concentration, who kept all the emotion and expression out of the face to ensure that it went all into the voice and vocal acting. His timbre is somewhat nasal (slightly more so it seems than in 1949, if both recordings are to be trusted to be faithful), not particularly seductive, but he sings with great expression. His limitation is that he is one of those tenors capable of valiance but not so much of softness and tenderness. His voice soars gloriously out of the texture in the consecration scene (CD 1 track 9), but his final b-flat in "Celeste Aida" is rung out fortissimo, and with a small and not very elegant jump from the previous A, "...vicino al so-ol". And when he does express softness and tenderness, in the final tomb scene, he over-expresses it, accompanying his singing with needless lachrymose sobs (try his line "Nè le mie forti braccia smuovere ti potranno, o fatal pietra!" at 3:18; incidentally, the reviewer of the original release in The Gramophone, January 1956, complained of "a slight lapse at those straining Fs" - I hear none of it). Some singers will never understand that for the audience to fully experience the emotion, the singer is to subtly rein it in, and that it is the audience that should sob, not the singer. I also think I hear traces of American accent in his Italian. But of course, Tucker is a model of taste, musicality and restraint compared to Del Monaco live. He may be no match for the best Radameses, Björling, Bergonzi, Vickers, Domingo (to limit myself to the LP era), but he is more than acceptable.
I don't know how it was contractually possible for Fedora Barbieri to have made two recordings of Aida the very same year on two competing labels (the other one was for RCA with Björling and Milanov under Perlea in Rome - at least she didnt have to travel far: Verdi: Aida), but she makes a fine Amneris, with the suitable mezzo color, the right timbral contrast with Aida-Callas and a great characterization. She is a formidable and worthy contender to Callas in the Amneris-Aida Act II duet. Gobbi doesn't have a huge voice but it is dark and hugely expressive, the stuff of a Iago or Scarpia, and with the ability to give it a subtly "rounder" and warmer tone in the more lyrical passages, like "ma tu re, tu signore possente" in Act II (when he asks mercy to the Pharaoh) or "rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate" in his Act III duet with Aida (and a Iago and Scarpia would also be able to change their tone in such a deviously insinuating way).
The comprimarios range from mediocre (messenger, High Priestress) to excellent (Ramfis, Pharaoh) - but then, nobody will discriminate an Aida on its messenger or even Ramfis, I think.
Serafin's tempos are usually sensibly-judged and feel natural, in general close enough to Verdi's metronome indications, avoiding the kind of dragging on recitatives and expressive overkill that sometimes marred the readings of Karajan and Solti (although the opening of the Amneris-Radames Act I recitative is at your customary lascivious-sluggish pacing that disregards Verdi's metronome mark), and the conductor whips up the Scala orchestra to great fire and tension. Brass ensemble is not always very clean, as can be heard as soon as the fanfares on Radames' recitative before "Celeste Aida" (track 3). The trumpets in the Marcia are as piercing and vulgar as they'll ever get - but that is, I suppose, true Italian tradition (and is not heard only in Italy of course). The Gramophone reviewer also complained of a wrong entry of the chorus in the tomb scene, but I've located it no more than Tucker's strained Fs.
The main drawback of this version then is its sonics, which confines it to the "historical recording" category. Sonically, it isn't close even to the RCA Perlea recording from the same year (see link above). You could almost mistake the latter one for early stereo. The EMI recording is firmly anchored in the mono era. I don't have EMI's previous transfers from tape to CD for comparison, other than the small 30" samples available on this website (under Aida - Verdi). If they are faithful to the sound on the CD, Mark Obert-Thorn's transfer for Naxos (from LP to CD), despite its significant background noise (but it doesn't sound as LP surface noise), seems to have more impact. Abundant cueing, no libretto, interesting notes about Callas and the role of Aida on stage.