Thanks to Hugh Jackman’s recent portrayal in The Greatest Showman, PT Barnum is back in the news again. But while the story of the King of Humbug and his menagerie of curiosities has inspired a string of films as well as a Broadway musical, the story of the Swedish soprano who so obsessed the American impresario that he moved heaven and earth to tempt her across the Atlantic is just as remarkable. Little wonder that their conjunction in New York turned out to be the PR event of the 19th century.

Jenny Lind, PT Barnum Jenny Lind and PT Barnum

Despite her reputation as the epitome of Victorian morality, Jenny Lind (aka ‘The Swedish Nightingale’), had the misfortune to be born out of wedlock in 1820. By the age of 18 she had already caused a commotion in her native Stockholm as Agathe in Der Freischütz, from where she went on to capture the hearts not just of the public but of half the Romantic artists of Europe. Meyerbeer wrote her roles (which she never performed), she was adored by Berlioz and Schumann, and Mendelssohn was so smitten that he stalked her for years,...