Director Harry Kupfer has died

The German Wagnerian director died yesterday at his home in Berlin. He was 84.

Concept provider for the Daniel Barenboim 1988 Ring at Bayreuth, Kupfer emerged from the Walter Felsenstein crucible at the Komische Oper in East Berlin and spent the formative part of his career under Communism. He was head of opera in Dresden from 1972 and of the Komische Oper from 1981.

Kupfer made his Bayreuth debut in 1984 with Flying Dutchman and went on to the international circuit.

He wrote the libretto for Penderecki’s opera The Black Mask and staged its 1986 premiere in Salzburg, and later in Santa Fe.

A realist among modernists, he was very much a singer’s director, working with artists individually and respectfully.

His singer wife Marianne predeceased him.


l-r: Domingo, Netrebko, Kupfer

UPDATE: What we owe to Harry Kupfer

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  • I think the Dutchman was new to Bayreuth in 1978 rather than ’84. In any case, in a field never short on inflated reputations, he deserved all of his. A brilliant man who did much great work.

  • Kupfer’s “Macbeth” production for Berlin Staatsoper, premiered with Domingo and Netrebko in 2018 (pictured together with Kupfer for this posting) is one of the best and most exciting “Macbeth” productions I have ever seen.

    May Herr Harry Kupfer rest in peace.

  • RIP Harry Kupfer – a real gentleman with very strong principles on opera, on staging, always putting the music first and working on interpretative minutae with singers. One of the really great stage directors!

  • Of all the directors I worked with – as Chrysothemis, Leonore in Fidelio and Bruennhilde in the Bayreuth Barenboim/Kupfer Ring cycle – Harry was the most thrilling and stimulating. He had the ability to recognise your hidden potential as singer and actor and use it to help you build a performance that otherwise you might never have imagined possible. I would have turned somersaults for him if he had asked me to. A few singers grumbled that he was allowed too much rehearsal time, but he knew just how to make use of it to the singers’ advantage. Harry was the last survivor of a group of fine East German-trained directors with whom I had the good fortune to sing: Herz, Friedrich, Berghaus, Kupfer. For me Harry was the greatest of them all. He was hoping to come to London in February to take part in a discussion about his Bayreuth Ring organised by the Wagner Society. Sadly he won’t be present, but he will be very much in the minds of all us there who worked with him and loved him.

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