Even for a town like Washington, white tie means something special. At the National Symphony Ball last night at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, the guests -- dressed like stars -- proceeded to act like divas.

"I'm Scottish," Gordon Grant, in white tie and Grant family tartan, proudly announced, wading through the lengthy receiving line to pay respects to ball chairman Sarah Chapoton, honorary chairman Anne Petrignani, her husband, Italian ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani, and orchestra president Leonard Silverstein and his wife Elaine.

Others among the more than 1,300 patrons -- who paid $200 each to be there -- were not so patient. "I hate receiving lines," said patron Steve Nagel, as he strode away from the ever-growing queue. "Why should I wait? I talk to the ambassador 12 times a day and see him three times a week."

Off to the side stood the NSO's music director, Mstislav Rostropovich, bear-hugging everyone in sight and beaming as he surveyed the scene. The ball is expected to raise about $250,000 for the symphony. This year the theme was Italy.

"All Italians love music, be they Danes or Americans," said Danish-born Anne Petrignani, whose adopted country provided the backdrop.

Guests sampled bits of past and present Italy in a foyer transformed to an Italian country scene, dotted with murals from "Romeo and Juliet" and carts overflowing with grapes and wine. Later in the ballroom, a mixture of Italian Renaissance and Rome chic, they danced between antipasto and amaretti to the music of -- who else -- Gene Donati. Models in Italian designs posed in living vignettes..

Patron Minnie-Lee Sommers, who counts the ball as a must each year before she leaves Washington for Texas in January, watched the crowd--which included economist Martin Feldstein and OAS Secretary General Alejandro Orfila -- with an approving eye. "There are more international people here -- the beautiful, charming people."