A South African opera singer personally chosen by Nelson Mandela to sing at the World Cup's opening ceremony has died two weeks before he was due to perform.

Siphiwo Ntshebe, 34, an up-and-coming tenor known to local fans as the "new Pavarotti" after the late Italian star Luciano Pavarotti, contracted bacterial meningitis while rehearsing for the June 11 concert. He died in hospital on Tuesday (May 25).

The singer was to perform his signature song, called "'Hope," during the ceremony, ahead of the opening match between South Africa and Mexico.

The song, which features spoken words by Mandela, had already been recorded as part of an official World Cup album.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter sent a message of condolences to Ntshebe's family.

"That he should pass away so suddenly, and so close to the opening of the first FIFA World Cup to be hosted on African soil is very cruel, but we are not master of our destiny," he said.

Ntshebe rose from humble beginnings in South Africa's poor Eastern Cape province. He had been singing since the age of five and trained in South Africa, Australia and London's Royal College of Music and had performed throughout in Europe.