Posted in Behind the News

Song sparks opera singer harassment scoop

, by Patrick Maks

In a memo to staff, Managing Editor Brian Carovillano explained how a bombshell investigation of sexual harassment allegations against opera legend Placido Domingo started with a song:

San Francisco-based reporter Jocelyn Gecker was at a party about 18 months ago when she noticed the beautiful voice of the woman next to her singing “Happy Birthday,” and complimented her. The woman was a former opera singer who, without knowing Gecker was a reporter, confided that the industry had a dark underbelly, offering her assessment that “Placido Domingo is the Bill Cosby of the opera world.”
Placido Domingo speaks during a news conference about his upcoming show "Giovanna d'Arco" in Madrid, Spain, July 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The discussion sparked months of work by Gecker to publicly reveal what many said had been an open secret in the opera world: allegations from dozens of people that Domingo regularly behaved inappropriately with young women and acted with impunity. In all, Gecker would find nine women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment and a half-dozen more who said suggestive overtures from the star made them uncomfortable. Gecker faced numerous challenges on the story, not the least of which were reluctant sources. Many of Domingo’s accusers feared that telling their stories publicly would harm their music careers or bring them public humiliation. Domingo, the most successful opera singer in history, was likened by one woman to a god. A breakthrough came weeks before Gecker’s story ran when one of Domingo’s accusers agreed to go on the record, telling her story on camera. The resulting 5,200-word story instantly commanded global attention. There was immediate fallout to the story as well, with two music companies canceling performances by the singer and the Los Angeles Opera saying it would hire outside counsel to launch an investigation into Domingo, who serves as its general director. Work on the Domingo story also led to a story about sexual abuse allegations against famed opera conductor Charles Dutoit, all of this unfolding while Gecker juggled multiple major breaking news assignments, including the massive, deadly California wildfires, riots at the University of California-Berkeley and mass shootings. Through it all, she continued to chip away at the Domingo allegations. For finding a major international story in an unlikely setting, and her care in dealing with sources while reporting tenaciously on a sensitive topic, Gecker earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.