These are all the same arguments about Callas that have been repeated continuously since the 1950s. Do we not realize that she is the *only* singer who is still a living presence, the subject of such debate nearly 40 years after her death, 52 years after she left the operatic stage, and 57 years since she had anything resembling a usable voice?! It says, first of all, that opera never recovered from her loss. Secondly, it says that she wasn't a 'singer' or 'singing actress' at all--truly damning with faint praise. She transcended her repertoire and her medium, not to mention her fans' and detractors' misdirected ideas about what she should be. She was, as she said herself, a *musician*--and perhaps the greatest one in the 20th century. When she talked about colleagues, she never referred to singers, always to other great musicians like Heifetz and Furtwangler. She used her voice the way Heifetz used his Guarnerius. Every nuance in the music was amplified and improved (given that much opera is a compromised form). 'Opera is something that has been dead a long time, so if we really don't [work hard to make it believable], it's not taken in with pleasure.' She said this three years after she stopped singing. The same year (1968), she gave a brilliant, ice-cold analysis of her Lady Macbeth on a radio program for John Ardoin, detailing how, where, and why every nuance was selected. Could or would any other 'singer' do that, except in the most general terms? Doubtful. Her voice (1): the argument, as Zeffirelli put it in a 1978 documentary 'was as old as opera itself: beauty of vocal tone vs expressive use of the voice.' Indeed, we first see this satirized by Benedetto Marcello in the 1720 'Teatro alla moda': he comes down heavily in favor of expression. Her voice (2): perfect until August 1953, capable of nuances and color undreamed by opera composers, easy execution of the most fiendish passaggi, astounding top, middle, and low registers, endless expressivity. With the use of rhetorical time never heard with any other singer in quite this purposeful way, and the use of every expressive device open to musicians, the music came to vibrant life in an unheard-of manner, making anyone else look like... just a singer. Her voice changed drastically over time, but the musicianship did not. What listeners need to decide is whether they like the music; it is presented in its ultimate form by Callas. The rest is secondary. Carping about her vocal decay is tiresome. A dramatic weight loss, 1953-4 made the first mess: she'd learned how to sing in a different body, and the new one couldn't quite do the same things. Think of what would happen if someone thinned the plates of Heifetz's Guarneri. She continued to lose weight even after that, looking like a Holocaust survivor when shaking hands with ex-President Truman in 1959. Being thought of as homely for much of her life caused her to chase beauty and glamour, ruining her real gift. By 1960, the voice was damaged beyond repair, because the 1953-4 diet and stresses with which her slimmer, less muscular body could not cope after that, set in motion premature menopause which hit in late 1957 and pretty well finished her; having matured early--at age eleven, she might have been thus affected even without the weight loss, but the strain must surely have worsened the effect on her voice. Everyone likes to blame Onassis for ruining her musical career. He was a pig, but looking at it logically, she knew her voice was really departing by mid-1959, and she used him to conceal the fact from the public. Sadly, he hated music so the ruse was finite. With no reasonable voice, she had no choice: she did some more recordings and performances in the '60s. By then, it was almost impossible to listen to the art through the vocal damage. But the art was there, and some things, even from that period, leave one gasping and in tears (like descriptions of great performers' effects on listeners in the 1700s or similarly ruined singers of the 1800s like Giuditta Pasta): e.g., 'Willow Song/Ave Maria' in the second Verdi album.
Callas set the bar at a preposterously high level forever. The only reason to listen to other 'singers' in the same rep is to hear music cut in Callas' performances, as she still was taught with the provincialism of that mindset. She can't really spoil us for music she didn't sing, except that we--and the singers themselves--hear in our/their minds what she might have done. Callas, until 1959, always leaves me with the same question (except for performance practice glitches and bad editions): 'How else would one do it?'