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Kupfer was a protégé of Walter Felsenstein at the Komische Oper Berlin. From 1981 to 2002, Kupfer was chief director of the Komische Opera. Since the 1970s, he has also directed productions of Richard Wagner at the Bayreuth Festival, including Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Kupfer co-wrote the libretto with composer Krzysztof Penderecki of Penderecki's opera The Black Mask. He directed the 1986 world premiere production in Salzburg and the US premiere production at Santa Fe Opera in 1988.
Kupfer and his late wife, the music teacher and soprano Marianne Fischer-Kupfer, have a daughter, Kristiane, an actress.
Among his productions available on DVD: