A towering 6 foot 6 inches in height, Jerome Hines has been the Metropolitan Opera Company's leading bass singer for 41 consecutive seasons.

He is also a sculptor, author, composer, mathemetician and scuba diver. He turned 67 on Nov. 8."I'm not going to grow old gracefully," he says.

He has triumphed at the Met and elsewhere in the world, in such parts as the title roles in "Boris Godounov" and "Don Giovanni" King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor in "Don Carlo," Ramfis in "Aida," Mephistopheles in "Faust" and Banquo in Verdi's "Macbeth."

With characteristic fervor, Hines studied Russian before singing Boris in the Soviet Union as part of the U.S.-Soviet cultural exchange program in the `60s. (He had been the first American-born basso to attempt the role at the Met.) He sang Boris at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis; Nikita Khrushchev led the standing ovation that followed, and the Russian premier declared the visiting American artist an unofficial ambassador, bidding him tell the Western world that "Khrushchev is not going to fight."

In his dark suit, with double-breasted vest, he is a commanding presence. But the man's personality is such an ebullient one, his enthusiasm and joie de vivre so exuberant, Jerome Hines is far from formidable.

He says his wife, Italian-born soprano Lucia Evangelista, who gave up her own career to rear their four sons, asked his doctor 30 years ago, "Can't you do something to slow him down?" And the doctor answered, "Lucia, if you slowed him down, you'd kill him."

"All my life I've been able to be high without taking anything," says Hines. " . . . I love life and I've loved everything I've grabbed onto. If you have an intense love for doing things and you don't lose it and you live long enough, you can accomplish something."

Among things he has "accomplished" aside from his singing career: At UCLA, he majored in chemistry, physics and math. He has won scuba-diving trophies in five countries. Besides a book on operational mathematics, he has written an autobiography, "This Is My Story, This Is My Song," and a book documenting such greats as Placido Domingo and Marilyn Horn titled "The Great Singers on Great Singing." All this despite the fact that "I got a C-minus in freshman English, which I took when I was a senior. I hated English."

His last book "was very profitable in what it taught me. Imagine free singing lessons from 40 of the greatest singers of the world!"

On his voice, he says: "I myself have one principle and it works. When something goes wrong with the voice, don't blame it on your age. Horsefeathers, it is not. Tell yourself `It is something I'm doing wrong.' Then you can do something about it.

"In any career, there are two major factors. One, you have to have something to say, and two, you have to know how to get it attention."

Jerome Hines is also excited about the fact that he has transformed his entire family into scuba divers. "Seven years ago, I finally got a tank on my wife's back. She did her 168th ocean dive the end of August.

"I'm a fanatic about things I like, and I like a lot of things. Life," exults Jerome Hines, "is an adventure. I wish it would go on forever. There's so much to do."