Karl, Tom (1846–1916), tenor, was born Thomas Carroll on 19 January 1846 in Dublin. He studied in England under Henry Phillips and, on the recommendation of the great English tenor Sims Reeves, went to Italy (1868), where he studied under Sangiovanni and Trivulzi. It was as ‘Tom Karl’ that he appears to have made his operatic debut on 15 May 1869 in Petrella's opera ‘La contessa d'Amalfi’ at the Teatro Goldoni, Modena. He sang in Italy until 1872. As Gatti's annals of La Scala, Milan, mention a singer named Karl singing in Beer's opera ‘Elisabetta d'Ungheria’, it is possible that he sang at La Scala in 1871. On 5 December 1872 he sang with Spaak in Genoa at the Teatro Paganinni in Marchetti's ‘Romeo e Giulietta’. Karl later went to America with the Parepa–Rosa opera company to sing in a season of opera in English. After returning briefly to Italy he went back to the US and settled in New York.
During the 1870s Karl performed throughout the US with several opera companies. In 1872 he sang at the Boston Theater with the Parepa–Rosa company in Cherubini's ‘Les deux journées’ and Mozart's ‘Don Giovanni’. He appeared in a number of operas, including Donizetti's ‘La favorita’ and ‘Figlia del reggimento’ and Bizet's ‘Carmen’ at the Boston Theater during the 1875/6 season, and made many subsequent appearances at the venue until 1888. During the latter part of the 1870s Karl performed many operas with the Strakosch opera company, founded by the pianist Maurice Strakosch (whom Karl may have met through Parepa–Rosa) and later managed by his brother Max Strakosch. In 1876 he sang in four different operas, including the title role in Charles Gounod's ‘Faust’ (1 April 1876), at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia. The following year (19 February 1977) he reprised his role in ‘Faust’ with the Max Strakosch and Bolossy Kiralfy company at the Broad Street Theater in Philadelphia. In January 1878 he appeared with the Max Strakosch company in four operas performed in as many days at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. As well as playing Faust, he performed the roles of Fernando in ‘La favorita’ (8 January), Willhelm Meister in ‘Mignon’ by Ambroise Thomas (10 January), and Thaddeus in Michael Balfe's (qv) ‘The Bohemian girl’ (11 January).
The female lead in ‘Mignon’ in 1878 had been performed by Clara Louise Kellog, who was managed by either Max Strakosch or his nephew Carl Strakosch (possibly both at different stages), whom Kellog later married. Already well known, Kellog had formed her own opera company, and the Strakosches became involved in managing it. Through his connection with the Strakosches Karl sang several well known roles with the Kellog opera company, including Lyonel in Flotow's ‘Martha’ at the Arch Street Theater, Philadelphia (3 May 1878) and Alfredo Germont in Verdi's ‘La Traviata’ at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia (4 May 1878).
When the soprano Emma Abbott, who had also studied under Sangiovanni at Milan, founded the Abbott English opera company in 1878, Tom Karl and William Castle toured many cities in the USA as her principal tenors. Karl sang many of the parts he had previously performed and added roles such as Don José from ‘Carmen’ to his repertoire.
Together with William H. Mac Donald and Henry Clay Barnabee, Karl had been a member of the Boston Church Choir Company, and the three men became founder members of the Boston Ideal opera company. ‘The Ideals’, as they became known, were founded in 1879 by Miss Effie H. Ober, owner of a vocal and theatrical agency called the Lyceum Bureau, with the purpose of staging an ‘ideal’ or faithful production of Gilbert and Sullivan's ‘HMS Pinafore’. The Ideals gained a reputation as the foremost performers of ‘Pinafore’, with Karl earning much praise for his performance as Ralph Rackstraw. Although the Ideals continued to perform grand opera, the acclaim that Karl received in ‘Pinafore’ encouraged him to devote most of his energies to light opera, and over the next seventeen years he earned a reputation in both America and Europe as one of the finest exponents of the genre.
Although the Ideals travelled the US and gained a reputation for being the best performers of light opera in the country, by 1885 Barnabee, Karl, and MacDonald had become disillusioned with Ober's management, and soon after her retirement the three men left the original company to found their own troupe, the Bostonians. Initially retaining grand opera in their repertoire, they later dropped it in favour of exclusively light opera performances. One of their greatest successes was Reginald De Koven's ‘Robin Hood’ (1891), in which Karl often played the lead. The three men also encouraged Dublin-born composer and cellist Victor Herbert (qv) to compose a number of operettas, including ‘Prince Ananias’ (1894) and ‘The serenade’ (1897), which they performed to great acclaim. Karl stayed with the Bostonians until the early 1890s and had a repertoire of 150 operas and light operas by this time.
He retired in 1896 and lived for some years in New York, where he became director of an operatic school and taught privately in Rochester. He and his companion D. M. Dewey bought a hotel on Martha's Vineyard in 1895. It was originally called the Oklahoma, but Karl renamed it ‘Innisfail’ and built a small house beside it, to which he gave the name ‘Linda Vista’. The hotel was burned to the ground in 1906, as a result of a forest fire. After this they both went west for a time, doing concert work, and returned to the east coast in 1911. Karl had given a single concert at the Waldorf Astoria in February 1905 and in 1911 toured for two years with his old colleague Barnabee in a show called ‘Barnabee & Karl evenings’. Dewey and Karl then settled in Rochester, NY, where Karl died 19 March 1916 and Dewey a few months later. (Many of Karl's performances in Philadelphia are catalogued in John Curtis, ‘Opera in Philadelphia, performance chronology 1875–1899’, edited by Frank Hamilton.)