The guests wore black tie and sequins, but the party was family style last night at the Italian Embassy.

They came from Italy and throughout the United States to celebrate cultural ties and to honor five who call Italy home: Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti, Italian TV personality Raffaella Carra, writer Gay Talese and Jack Valenti were the recipients of the America-Christopher Columbus Awards, presented by the Italian Association of Motion Picture, Theater and Television Authors.

Villa Firenze -- home of Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani and his wife Anne -- was the dazzling setting for the dinner and presentation, where non-Italian speakers could pick up about half the conversations and an exotic countess could rub shoulders with the likes of Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

"It's getting wild," someone commented when Loren entered the predinner reception in the 59-room home. "I'm just standing here staring," said another as the star made the rounds, squinting at each person she met as the television camera lights followed her.

The event attracted nearly a dozen representatives of the Italian media, as well as an American contingent. All descended on a terse Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a considerably more relaxed Weinberger -- who only hours before had met with President Reagan to discuss the Persian Gulf situation -- but both let the stars do the talking.

Award recipient Carra, who hosts a weekly three-hour TV program, seized her moment. She gave interviews willingly, but not until she had cornered Loren, et al., before her own cameras. The videotape will be sent back to Italy to air on her next show.

Pavarotti, looking hearty, was the last to arrive, and rumors of a successful diet had preceded him. During the brief award presentation before a dinner of soup, pasta with seafood, partridge and three wines (Italian, of course), Carra introduced him: "I met Luciano Pavarotti about 37 kilos {a little more than 80 pounds} ago. You look great -- boy, do you look great!" Talese, confirming the weight loss, said that when he saw him a year ago in New York, the tenor was wearing a cape to hide his bulk.

Presented with his award, Pavarotti recalled the last time he received such an honor. "Another thrill for me was being parade marshal in New York City, because your President Carter was walking behind me and I was in front on a horse."

Talese said he was proud to call himself Italian and American and is writing a new book about "the Italian-American experience. Tonight is part of the process," he said. "This is my world. Authors like me are sociologists without credentials."

Loren, radiant in a low-cut gown, coyly declined to say whether her last TV role (as a woman who helped the Drug Enforcement Administration crack a drug ring) is a step away from her glamorous image. The actress said she also has been thinking about the Italian family. She just finished filming a made-for-TV movie based on Mario Puzo's "The Fortunate Pilgrim," in which she plays the author's mother from the years 1908 to 1945 and ages from 33 to 70. "It's not a sad role," she said. "It's a moving story." To replicate New York City in the early 20th century, the cast and crew went to Yugoslavia, she said.

Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told the story of his ancestors' emigration. All four of his grandparents, he said, were from Sicily. "I think they caught the wrong boat. They landed in Galveston and then went to Houston. Do you know how many Italians there were in Texas then?" he asked with a grin.

Coffee was served after dinner, and then it was time for good-nights in front of the fireplace. Valenti, still sharing stories, joined the exodus, but only after he was seen modeling a pair of glamorous clip-on earrings he had borrowed from another guest.