Next time you dress in an Italian designer suit of fine merino wool for a night at the opera, keep in mind that opera may be one reason that suit cost so much. Huh? It's true, apparently. From Australia comes word that for the second year in a row , merino sheep in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales State have produced a bale of the world's absolute-best wool. So good, in fact, that the venerable fashion house Loro Piana of Milan, the leading buyer of merino wool, has paid $174,800 for 200 pounds of it. That's 357 times the normal market price for wool, of which Australia sells about 5 million bales a year. Exactly how fine is fine? Loro Piana said last week in a news release that a single strand of the new fleece measures just 11.8 microns, compared to the 20 or 21 that are typical of average Australian wool. A micron is equal to 0.00003937th of an inch. Even "superfine" wool can measure up to 19.5 microns. A Loro Piana suit made from the stuff would set you back as much as $11,000. But, anyway, back to opera: On the advice of animal husbandry experts, the flock that produces this marvelous fleece mostly spends its days and nights indoors, being fed a trade-secret diet of specially grown grains and hay and subjected to recordings of tenor Andrea Bocelli and other star vocalists.