Jan-Hendrik Rootering is one of the world's leading classical bass singers and is especially known for his work in the German repertoire. His father was also an important singer, the Dutch tenor Hendrikus Rootering. Born in Germany, Jan-Hendrik received his first music and singing lessons from his father. This did not happen until he was in his mid-twenties; earlier he had started a career working with an air cargo company. Hendrikus Rootering found that his son did have potential as a singer, and encouraged him to go ahead with his singing.
Jan-Hendrik went to study at the Hamburg Conservatory and while there was already good enough to take small parts at the Hamburg State Opera. However, his official professional debut, after graduation, was with the Gelsenkirchen Opera in 1980, when he sang the part of Colline in Puccini's La bohème.
This appearance led to his engagement at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch had an opportunity to hear him sing and contracted him for his Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Rootering remained on the roster there until 1988. He began singing guest appearances at other major companies, such as Covent Garden, Amsterdam, Geneva, Hamburg, Vienna, and Berlin.
He debuted at the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Metropolitan Opera as the Landgrave in Wagner's Tannhäuser, and at La Scala as Pogner in Die Meistersinger. He has been invited back to the Met numerous times and has sung in operas from The Magic Flute (as Sarastro) and Don Giovanni (as Basilio), to Verdi's Don Carlos in the part of King Philip, and as Gurnemanz in Wagner's Parsifal. Among his other notable roles are Prince Gremin in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Baron Ochs in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, as well as most of Wagner's leading bass parts. In 1995, he made an important appearance as Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger in Munich, a role that is taking increasing importance in his repertory. His commanding presence makes him ideal for the kings and villains that are often a part of the bass repertory, but the warmth of his voice makes him, in the opinion of many, the leading Sachs of his time.
Rootering also is renowned for his concert career. A highlight of it was his participation in the historic performance conducted by Leonard Bernstein of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony commemorating the destruction of the Berlin Wall, available on audio and video recordings. Other recordings are La fanciulla del West conducted by Leonard Slatkin, Luisa Miller conducted by James Levine, Don Giovanni under the baton of Riccardo Muti, and numerous other operatic and concert recordings. He is also an esteemed Lieder singer and has released several discs of songs by the German composers from Loewe and Schubert to Strauss.
Rootering has been named to the ceremonial position of Kammersänger (Chamber Singer) of Bavaria. Since 1994 he has been a voice professor at the Munich Hochschule für Musik.