It will take an opera buff with nerves of chilled steel to lay aside this gossipy biography of baritone Merrill's life With the Metropolitan Opera Company. The greats are here and at length: Jussi Bjoerling, Maestro Toscanini, Licia Albanese, Tebaldi, Sutherland, et. al. Merrill's one-way feud with Met director Rudolph Bing is aired with mountainous contrition on Merrill's part (Bing fired Merrill for deserting temporarily to Hollywood, and only after years of penance was Merrill rehired). Merrill was a very early success at the Met, arriving by way of Grossinger's, Major Bowes Amateur Hour and NBC Opera Auditions. His youth was spent in utter poverty on the Lower East Side and Brooklyn's Brownsville ghetto: his father was a tailor, his mother a termagant.... He analyzes his miscalculated marriage to Roberta Peters and his productive second marriage to a pianist. Here and there the reader finds himself sliding on suds. Merrill's musical insights are seldom profound but always enthusiastic--and one comes away with new respect for some very hackneyed roles.