Born in Berlin, the German Director studied in Leipzig. He was Oberspielleiter in Stralsund and Chemnitz and directed in Weimar as well as in Dresden. From 1981 on he was director of Komische Oper Berlin and Professor at Musikhochschule Hanns Eisler Berlin. For his last production as chief director at Komische Oper Berlin, The Turn of the Screw, he was awarded the Bavarian Theatre Prize in 2002. He is a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin, of Freie Akademie der Künste Hamburg as well as Sächsischen Akademie der Künste Dresden and got honoured in 2004 with the Silbernes Blatt der Dramatiker Union.
He has directed more than 200 productions, for example in Bayreuth (Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer, Der Ring des Nibelungen), at Salzburger Festspiele (Penderecki: Die schwarze Maske) and at Staatsoper Unter den Linden (Wagner-Zyklus). Other works included: Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco, Macbeth and the world premiere of Reimann's Bernarda Albas Haus at the Bavarian State Opera, Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Penderecki's The Devils of Loudon and Bernstein's West Side Story at the Semperoper Dresden.
In recent years Harry Kupfer staged i.a. in 2009 Lehar's The Merry Widow at Hamburg State Opera, also Pfitzner's Palestrina and 2010 Berlioz's La damnation de Faust at the Frankfurt Opera. At Zurich Opera, he directed Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg last season. His most recent stage work is The Gambler by Sergey Prokofiev at Frankfurt Opera.
At the Theater an der Wien, Harry Kupfer worked on premiers of the musical Elisabeth (1992) and Mozart! (1999) - with Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos he returned in the fall of 2010.