Where, oh where was Luciano Pavarotti?

"He's tired," came the response from the Kennedy Center press person, darting like a water bug among a few hundred Pavarotti fans who wound up settling for each other last night.

Clearly, an apperance by the superstar tenor would have ignited a party held after the Washington premiere of the Metropolitan Opera, but singing the role of Nemorino in the Donizetti opera "L'elisir d'Amore" can be downright exhausting. He might even have gone straight home to bed.

Which, as it turns out, he did. About midnight, after signing autographs. for about 100 fans.

But everyone in the Kennedy Center's Atrium still drank champagne and hoped. "Not a sight, not a sight of him," sighed Kazuko Price, an Alexandria doctor and Pavarotti fan. "I've been waiting for him, oh, five years maybe."

In the tenor's absence, the talk turned to politics without a great deal of difficulty. Sen. Howard Baker (D-Tenn.) reigned as the politician of the moment, having just endorsed his former competitor, Ronald Reagan, for president.

"For all practical purposes the race is over," he said. "Reagan is going to be the nominee. The time has come to rally around and unify the party." Then he thought for a second.

"You know," he continued, "George Bush and I have been friends for many years -- and I expect we still will be."

Baker was one of just a few political and social celebrities at the party, causing social mavens who keep score cards on this stuff to wonder where all the glitter was. "There was not an opera ticket to be had," said one, "but as a society event, just look around."

Actually, it was better for smelling. The party was given by Revlon, one of the underwriters of the Met's stay in Washington, and the Revlon folk were delighted with the scent it gave off.

"If you just walk around this room you can smell Ciara," said Daniel Moriarty, Revlon's public relations director. "And I definitely smelled Bill Blass when I came in this evening." He stopped, critically sizing up the crowd.

"I would say," he concluded, "that, square foot by square foot, it's a Norell evening." Norrell II perfume, that is, selling for about $100 an ounce.

From the White House came presidential counsel Lloyd Cutler, who had nothing to say about Barbara Timm, the mother who visited her hostage son in Iran. "I think she's about to leave." he offered. "We've discouraged everyone because of the problems and the risks."

From the Met came Judith Blegen, who played Adina and apparently wasn't as tired as her costar, Pavarotti. "Is he sexy?" she responded to a question. "Oh, he's so much more than that, there's so much more to him than being sexy. He's a great artist."

And from Samoa came Catharina Biddle, wife of Livingston, the chairman of National Endowment for the Arts. She wore a giant purple orchid that was plucked from the island where she spent a recent holiday. It definitely smelled a lot stronger than Bill Blass or Ciara.

By 11:50 p.m. hope for a Pavarotti sighting had pretty much withered. Guests resorted to more champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Still, Kennedy Center Chairman Roger Stevens kept ansering questions as to whether Pavarotti would or wouldn't.

But Stevens knew nothing. "I just work here," he replied.